Later On

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

Archive for March 2022

Where Putin is headed

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David Troy has a Facebook post with links. The post:

I don’t see any signs that Putin will back off from the Dugin playbook. I don’t see many signs that the West understands that. Nuclear war may only be avoidable if Putin’s orders are ignored.

Look, Dugin is nuts. That doesn’t mean his isn’t the playbook being used. In fact, I can find no material departure from his strategy as defined in “Foundations” in the events of the last 5 years.

Dugin throws around the terms “eschaton” and “katechon” a lot. Look them up.

I’m getting tired of warning people about this and being gaslit by casual observers who haven’t studied the work. Been saying this since 2017. Correct so far.

Only question is timing, and whether Putin’s orders will be obeyed. I do not say this lightly. We need to assume this is the strategy, because it absolutely has been so far — nuts or not. Ignore at our peril.

See supporting resources below.

The supporting resources are:

And another:

Another is the Medium article “The Swamp and The Fire: An Urgent Warning to the West

And this article by Jeff Schogol in Task & Purpose: “The Pentagon is now calling Russia an ‘acute threat’.”

And finally an article by John B. Dunlop in Stanford’s The Europe Center, “Aleksandr Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics.” That article begins:

One perceptive observer of the Russian political scene, Francoise Thom, noted as far back as 1994 that fascism, and especially its “Eurasianist” variant, was displacing Russian nationalism among statist Russian elites as a post-communist “Russian Idea,” especially in the foreign policy sphere. “The weakness of Russian nationalists,” she emphasized, “stems from their inability to clearly situate Russian frontiers. Euras[ianism] brings an ideological foundation for post-Soviet imperialism.” 1

There probably has not been another book published in Russia during the post-communist period that has exerted an influence on Russian military, police, and statist foreign policy elites comparable to that of Aleksandr Dugin’s 1997 neo-fascist treatise, Foundations of Geopolitics. 2 The impact of this intended “Eurasianist” textbook on key elements among Russian elites testifies to the worrisome rise of fascist ideas and sentiments during the late Yeltsin and Putin periods.

The author of this six-hundred-page program for the eventual rule of ethnic Russians over the lands extending “from Dublin to Vladisvostok,” Aleksandr Gel’evich Dugin, was born in 1962, the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Russian military officers. 3 His father is said to have held the rank of colonel, and, according to one source, he served in Soviet military intelligence, in the GRU. 4 By all accounts, Dugin was a bright and precocious youth with a talent for learning foreign languages. (He is said to have mastered at least nine of them.) While still a teenager, he joined a secretive group of Moscow intellectuals interested in mysticism, paganism, and fascism. Both the “masters” of this group and their “disciples” engaged, inter alia, in translating the works of foreign writers who shared their interests. As one of his contributions, Dugin completed a translation of a book by the Italian pagan- fascist philosopher Julius Evola.

Dugin is reported to have been detained by the KGB for participating in this study group, and forbidden literature was subsequently discovered at his apartment. According to one account, he then was expelled from the Moscow Aviation Institute, where he had enrolled as a student some time in the late 1970s. According to another account, he eventually managed to graduate from the institute. 5

In 1987, during Gorbachev’s second year of rule, Dugin was in his mid-twenties and emerged as a leader of the notorious anti-Semitic Russian nationalist organization, Pamyat’, headed by photographer Dmitrii Vasil’ev. During late 1988 and 1989, Dugin served as a member of the Pamyat’ Central Council.

In 1989, taking advantage of increased opportunities to visit the West, Dugin spent most of the year traveling to Western European countries. While there, he strengthened ties with leading figures of the European New Right, such as Frenchman Alain de Benoist and Belgian Jean-Francois Thiriart. These contacts led to Dugin’s “belated reconciliation” with the USSR, just as that state was approaching its final demise. It appears that, largely as a result of these contacts with the European Nouvelle Droite, Dugin became a fascist theorist. On the subject of Dugin’s indubitable fascist orientation, Stephen

Shenfield has written: “Crucial to Dugin’s politics is the classical concept of the ‘conservative revolution’ that overturns the post-Enlightenment world and installs a new order in which the heroic values of the almost forgotten ‘Tradition’ are renewed. It is this concept that identifies Dugin unequivocally as a fascist.” 6

By the beginning of the 1990s, as the Soviet Union was approaching its collapse, Dugin began to assume a more high-profile political role. He formed an association with “statist patriots” in 

Continue reading.

This is scary stuff, and US effectiveness in meeting the threat is weakened because the US is a house divided against itself — for example, Former President Trump has asked Putin to dig up dirt — that is, make accusations against — President Biden. In other words, Trump is willing to cooperate with Putin to weaken President Biden (and thus the US). And Trump has the support of the Republican party. We’ve not seen anything like that before. 

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2022 at 6:19 pm

There Is No Liberal World Order

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Anne Applebaum has a strong essay in the Atlantic. It begins:

n february 1994, in the grand ballroom of the town hall in Hamburg, Germany, the president of Estonia gave a remarkable speech. Standing before an audience in evening dress, Lennart Meri praised the values of the democratic world that Estonia then aspired to join. “The freedom of every individual, the freedom of the economy and trade, as well as the freedom of the mind, of culture and science, are inseparably interconnected,” he told the burghers of Hamburg. “They form the prerequisite of a viable democracy.” His country, having regained its independence from the Soviet Union three years earlier, believed in these values: “The Estonian people never abandoned their faith in this freedom during the decades of totalitarian oppression.”

But Meri had also come to deliver a warning: Freedom in Estonia, and in Europe, could soon be under threat. Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the circles around him were returning to the language of imperialism, speaking of Russia as primus inter pares—the first among equals—in the former Soviet empire. In 1994, Moscow was already seething with the language of resentment, aggression, and imperial nostalgia; the Russian state was developing an illiberal vision of the world, and even then was preparing to enforce it. Meri called on the democratic world to push back: The West should “make it emphatically clear to the Russian leadership that another imperialist expansion will not stand a chance.”

At that, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin, got up and walked out of the hall.

Meri’s fears were at that time shared in all of the formerly captive nations of Central and Eastern Europe, and they were strong enough to persuade governments in Estonia, Poland, and elsewhere to campaign for admission to NATO. They succeeded because nobody in Washington, London, or Berlin believed that the new members mattered. The Soviet Union was gone, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg was not an important person, and Estonia would never need to be defended. That was why neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush made much attempt to arm or reinforce the new NATO members. Only in 2014 did the Obama administration finally place a small number of American troops in the region, largely in an effort to reassure allies after the first Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Nobody else anywhere in the Western world felt any threat at all. For 30 years, Western oil and gas companies piled into Russia, partnering with Russian oligarchs who had openly stolen the assets they controlled. Western financial institutions did lucrative business in Russia too, setting up systems to allow those same Russian kleptocrats to export their stolen money and keep it parked, anonymously, in Western property and banks. We convinced ourselves that there was no harm in enriching dictators and their cronies. Trade, we imagined, would transform our trading partners. Wealth would bring liberalism. Capitalism would bring democracy—and democracy would bring peace.

After all, it had happened before. Following the cataclysm of 1939–45, Europeans had indeed collectively abandoned wars of imperial, territorial conquest. They stopped dreaming of eliminating one another. Instead, the continent that had been the source of the two worst wars the world had ever known created the European Union, an organization designed to find negotiated solutions to conflicts and promote cooperation, commerce, and trade. Because of Europe’s metamorphosis—and especially because of the extraordinary transformation of Germany from a Nazi dictatorship into the engine of the continent’s integration and prosperity—Europeans and Americans alike believed that they had created a set of rules that would preserve peace not only on their own continents, but eventually in the whole world.

This liberal world order relied on the mantra of “Never again.” Never again would there be genocide. Never again would large nations erase smaller nations from the map. Never again would we be taken in by dictators who used the language of mass murder. At least in Europe, we would know how to react when we heard it.

But while we were happily living under the illusion that “Never again” meant something real, the leaders of Russia, owners of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, were reconstructing an army and a propaganda machine designed to facilitate mass murder, as well as a mafia state controlled by a tiny number of men and bearing no resemblance to Western capitalism. For a long time—too long—the custodians of the liberal world order refused to understand these changes. They looked away when Russia “pacified” Chechnya by murdering tens of thousands of people. When Russia bombed schools and hospitals in Syria, Western leaders decided that that wasn’t their problem. When Russia invaded Ukraine the first time, they found reasons not to worry. Surely Putin would be satisfied by the annexation of Crimea. When Russia invaded Ukraine the second time, occupying part of the Donbas, they were sure he would be sensible enough to stop.

Even when the Russians, having grown rich on the kleptocracy we facilitated, bought Western politicians, funded far-right extremist movements, and ran disinformation campaigns during American and European democratic elections, the leaders of America and Europe still refused to take them seriously. It was just some posts on Facebook; so what? We didn’t believe that we were at war with Russia. We believed, instead, that we were safe and free, protected by treaties, by border guarantees, and by the norms and rules of the liberal world order.

With the third, more brutal invasion of Ukraine, the vacuity of those beliefs was revealed. The Russian president openly denied the existence of a legitimate Ukrainian state: “Russians and Ukrainians,” he said, “were one people—a single whole.” His army targeted civilians, hospitals, and schools. His policies aimed to create refugees so as to destabilize Western Europe. “Never again” was exposed as an empty slogan while a genocidal plan took shape in front of our eyes, right along the European Union’s eastern border. Other autocracies watched to see what we would do about it, for Russia is not the only nation in the world that covets its neighbors’ territory, that seeks to destroy entire populations, that has no qualms about the use of mass violence. North Korea can attack South Korea at any time, and has nuclear weapons that can hit Japan. China seeks to eliminate the Uyghurs as a distinct ethnic group, and has imperial designs on Taiwan.

We can’t turn the clock back to 1994, to see what would have happened had we heeded Lennart Meri’s warning. But we can face the future with honesty. We can name the challenges and prepare to meet them.

There is no natural liberal world order, and there are no rules without someone to enforce them. Unless democracies  . . .

Continue reading. She offers some excellent specific steps to undertake.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2022 at 5:17 pm

Lion’s Mane mushroom — tasty

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Above is a lion’s mane mushroom I bought yesterday. The shaving brush is to give an idea of the mushroom’s size.

It’s a solid mushroom. At right you can see a couple of slabs I cut from it to sauté. I cooked them in a little olive oil with a pinch of grey sea salt. 

Lion’s Mane is a tasty mushroom, and it has an impressive array of health benefits. I might use the remained in something I cook, probably after dicing it, but the slabs are quite tasty. 

Some local grower is providing a little neighborhood market with these. They had three, all about the same size. 

Yesterday was a shopping day. I also got some store-made hummus (in a Middle-Eastern deli, a different store) along with some collards and BBQ/spring onions. That may be where I use some of the Lion’s Mane mushroom.

A couple of slabs of Lion’s Mane in the pan —mushroom steaks

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31 March 2022 at 4:27 pm

Facebook paid GOP firm to malign TikTok

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Mark Zuckerberg really is a despicable person. Taylor Lorenz and Drew Harwell report in the Washington Post (gift link; no paywall):

Facebook parent company Meta is paying one of the biggest Republican consulting firms in the country to orchestrate a nationwide campaign seeking to turn the public against TikTok.

The campaign includes placing op-eds and letters to the editor in major regional news outlets, promoting dubious stories about alleged TikTok trends that actually originated on Facebook, and pushing to draw political reporters and local politicians into helping take down its biggest competitor. These bare-knuckle tactics, long commonplace in the world of politics, have become increasingly noticeable within a tech industry where companies vie for cultural relevance and come at a time when Facebook is under pressure to win back young users.

Employees with the firm, Targeted Victory, worked to undermine TikTok through a nationwide media and lobbying campaign portraying the fast-growing app, owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, as a danger to American children and society, according to internal emails shared with The Washington Post.

Targeted Victory needs to “get the message out that while Meta is the current punching bag, TikTok is the real threat especially as a foreign owned app that is #1 in sharing data that young teens are using,” a director for the firm wrote in a February email.

Campaign operatives were also encouraged to use TikTok’s prominence as a way to deflect from Meta’s own privacy and antitrust concerns.

“Bonus point if we can fit this into a broader message that the current bills/proposals aren’t where [state attorneys general] or members of Congress should be focused,” a Targeted Victory staffer wrote.

The White House is briefing TikTok stars about the war in Ukraine

The emails, which have not been previously reported, show the extent to which Meta and its partners will use opposition-research tactics on the Chinese-owned, multibillion-dollar rival that has become one of the most downloaded apps in the world, often outranking even Meta’s popular Facebook and Instagram apps. In an internal report last year leaked by the whistleblower Frances Haugen, Facebook researchers said teens were spending “2-3X more time” on TikTok than Instagram, and that Facebook’s popularity among young people had plummeted.

Targeted Victory declined to respond to questions about the campaign, saying only that it has represented Meta for several years and is “proud of the work we have done.”

In one email, a Targeted Victory director asked for ideas on local political reporters who could serve as a “back channel” for anti-TikTok messages, saying the firm “would definitely want it to be hands off.”

In other emails, Targeted Victory urged partners to push stories to local media tying TikTok to dangerous teen trends in an effort to show the app’s purported harms. “Any local examples of bad TikTok trends/stories in your markets?” a Targeted Victory staffer asked.

“Dream would be to get stories with headlines like ‘From dances to danger: how TikTok has become the most harmful social media space for kids,’ ” the staffer wrote.

Meta spokesperson Andy Stone defended the campaign by saying, . .

Continue reading. (again: gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2022 at 12:25 pm

Two videos on FGF21 and life extension

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I was intrigued to learn that cutting back on excess protein intake led to extended longevity. I had taken in the common idea that a high-protein diet is good. Not so, according to the evidence. Watch these two short videos for more information. On the the site, the videos are accompanied by a transcript and also by a list of links to the studies whose findings are quoted.

It’s a two-part presentation, so two videos.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2022 at 12:17 pm

Maggard Razors V2OC and Phoenix & Beau Specialist, with Ginger’s Garden Havana Cognac aftershave

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Phoenix & Beau Specialist was a custom mix for West Coast Shaving: “vanilla, vetiver, malt whiskey, hops, barley, & freshly picked tobacco leaf.” It a good fragrance and makes a good lather, this morning with a Yaqi brush.

Maggard Razors’s V2 open-comb is a clone of the Parker 24/26 head, and it does a very nice job indeed. I have it mounted here on a Maggard handle. Three passes, no problems at all, and a very smooth face. Given how comfortable the head is, it’s efficiency comes as a bit of a surprise.

Ginger’s Garden Havana Cognac has a good feel on the face and, to my nose, a faint fragance. 

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Editors’ Blend: “Murchie’s Editors’ Blend Tea is a rich and smooth blend of black teas: Ceylon adds depth and a brisk sparkling finish, Yunnan provides smoothness and sweetness and Keemun ties it together.”

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2022 at 10:30 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

Inside Starling Lab, a moonshot project to preserve the world’s most important information

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Interesting project — and important, as more and more of our history and culture becomes digital or digitized, and as AI-assisted alteration and fakery become better and easier. Katharine Schwab writes at Fast Company:

hen the British army liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945, they found horrors so shocking that a journalist’s eyewitness reports to the BCCwere held for days because their veracity was in doubt.

“We lived among heaps of bodies,” says Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, a survivor of the camp whose firsthand experience at both Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz is now memorialized in a 130-minute video testimony. In the 1998 video, she tells an interviewer from the USC Shoah Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the memories of genocide survivors, about how playing the cello in the Auschwitz orchestra helped her endure one of the most horrific atrocities in human history.

Lasker-Wallfisch’s recollections have now become the first test case for an ambitious project to preserve the foundation’s archive of 56,000 audio-visual testimonies through a radical means: the blockchain. While most oral histories are stored in more traditional ways—on hard drives, for example, or in the cloud—the digital file of Lasker-Wallfisch’s testimony is also being archived using a decentralized web protocol, creating extra redundancies in an effort to preserve her account on the internet for the long term. Right now, her testimony lives on dozens of different servers. One day, it may live on thousands.

The foundation’s move to the blockchain is in partnership with Starling Lab, a nonprofit academic research center that’s on a mission to use decentralized ledgers to help preserve historical data of importance to humanity. Its lofty goal is to restore integrity both to data and to the internet itself—starting with some of the most precious information we have.

For the past three years, the lab’s founding director, Jonathan Dotan, has been developing a set of technologies, called the Starling Framework, that aims to maintain the integrity of a piece of information as it is captured and stored. Now, the lab is working with the USC Shoah Foundation to upload the nonprofit’s interviews from survivors and witnesses of 14 genocides and episodes of mass violence to a decentralized storage system. Each testimony is first checked to make sure the file’s data hasn’t degraded over its lifetime. It’s then given a unique content identifier—called a hash—that refers to both the image and its corresponding metadata, which includes where and when the testimony was taken. The storage system that Starling uses, called Filecoin, is built on a blockchain that requires data providers to constantly prove that they hold the same data that they were originally tasked with storing—ensuring that information hasn’t been tampered with.

A low-resolution copy of the foundation’s archive has already been uploaded to four Filecoin data providers. Starling and the foundation are currently in the midst of uploading a high-resolution copy to 20 storage providers—a 15-week-long process. (Starling and the foundation are also experimenting with how new testimonies can be embedded with a content ID and stored on the blockchain as they are filmed.)

The ultimate goal, says Dotan, is . . .

Continue reading.

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30 March 2022 at 11:54 am

MT Himalayan Heights and RR Lupo, with GG Suede

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I had quite a nice shave today. I loaded the brush, Phoenix Artisan’s Amber Aerolite, with no added water — it’s a voluminous knot and perhaps water still lurked within even after I shook the brush. Meißner Tremonia’s Himalayan Heights has a fine fragrance and made a very smooth and thick lather.

The RazoRock Lupo has quite a bit of blade feel but is comfortable withal, and also highly efficient. Three passes left my face wonderfully smooth and also undamaged. The handle is a Tradere. I found the Lupo handle not so much to my taste.

A splash of Ginger’s Garden Suede, whose fragrance I like and whose consistency is a bit thicker than the common splash, finished the job.

The tea today is Murchie’s Ode to Joy. It was a limited run (Christmas season, presumably) and I have no information other than it tastes good — black tea with a hint of some fruit.

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30 March 2022 at 10:58 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

Wind and solar vs. Coal and gas

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30 March 2022 at 6:30 am

The Nixon White House plotted to assassinate a journalist 50 years ago

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Mark Feldstein, a journalism historian at the University of Maryland and author of Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture, worked as a student intern for Anderson in the summers of 1973 and 1976. He writes in the Washington Post:

The poisoning plot seemed right out of a Russian playbook. An unhinged and vengeful chief of state, obsessed with historic grievances and destroying enemies. Obsequious apparatchiks slavishly devoted to following orders. Intelligence operatives trained in assassination techniques and eager to carry them out.

But this conspiracy to execute an investigative reporter took place not in Moscow, but in Washington. The head of state wasn’t Vladimir Putin; it was Richard M. Nixon. The plot was hatched 50 years ago this week, although the story has largely been lost to history.

Nixon’s hatred for the news media long predated his election as president. Where other politicians shrugged off public criticism, Nixon believed he was uniquely the target of journalistic vilification. When he entered the White House in 1969, he vowed revenge.

As president, Nixon ordered illegal wiretaps on newsmen who criticized his administration and instructed FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to compile a dossier on “homosexuals known and suspected in the Washington press corps.” Nixon’s Justice Department filed antitrust charges against television networks that criticized him and went to court in an unprecedented attempt to legalize government censorship. Nixon’s aides even put together a list of “enemies,” including journalists, to be secretly targeted for government retaliation.

The journalist Nixon despised most was crusading columnist Jack Anderson, then the most famous and feared investigative reporter in the country. Anderson had a hand in exposing virtually every Nixon scandal since he first entered politics, and he escalated his attacks once Nixon was president, uncovering Nixon’s deceit in foreign policy, and his political and personal corruption.

Nixon railed that “we’ve got to do something with this son of a bitch,” but nothing seemed to stop Anderson. The president’s reelection campaign planted a mole in the newsman’s office, but Anderson’s secretary discovered the snooping and ejected the infiltrator. A top White House adviser tried to discredit Anderson by leaking him forged documents, but he figured out they were bogus and didn’t fall for the ruse. The CIA illegally wiretapped and surveilled Anderson, but his nine children chased the spies away and Anderson mocked their incompetence in his column. The president even ordered his staff to smear Anderson as gay, but the allegation was as false as it was ridiculous and went nowhere.

Finally, in March 1972, the Nixon White House turned to the one method guaranteed to silence Anderson permanently: assassination. After meeting with the president in his hideaway office in the Old Executive Office Building, White House special counsel Charles Colson contacted his top White House operative, E. Howard Hunt. The “son of a bitch” Anderson “had become a great thorn in the side of the president,” Colson told Hunt, according to Hunt’s later Senate testimony, and the White House had to “stop Anderson at all costs.” (Hunt also corroborated this story to me in a 2003 interview.)

According to Hunt, Colson proposed assassinating Anderson by . . .

Continue reading.

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30 March 2022 at 6:14 am

Ronnie O’Sullivan shows how to escape a snooker

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30 March 2022 at 5:31 am

Posted in Games, Snooker, Video

How Russia finds Americans who will help

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Click that link and read the full conversation.

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30 March 2022 at 5:20 am

Latin and Greek Are Finding A Voice At Oxford

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Bijan Omrani has an interesting article in Medium:

In Oxford, Latin is everywhere. Latin mottoes, memorials and inscriptions greet you at every turn throughout the city and its colleges. Every day, during term time, Latin graces are said in dining halls. Students are still admitted to the University and receive their degrees in Latin ceremonies. On occasion, there are Latin services and Latin sermons at the University Church. And at the high point of the University year, the Encaenia Ceremony, honorary doctorates are awarded — after a traditional spread of strawberries, peaches, and champagne — with grand Latin orations in praise of the honorands in the Sheldonian Theatre.

But, with this ubiquity of Latin in mind, how far would one get in Oxford if one actually attempted to speak Latin, or at least wanted to learn how to speak it?

Certainly, in my time as a Classics undergraduate there in the late 1990s, the answer would have been not very far. For all of the Latin traditions and ceremonial around us, in our daily studies Latin was seen as a language strictly to be read, and, on occasion, laboriously written in the course of exercises. The idea that it might be taught as a spoken language was unheard of, and had it been suggested, it would without doubt have been dismissed as being too eccentric even for Oxford, the proverbial home of lost causes.

My undergraduate self would therefore have been astonished to see me, twenty years on, sitting in an online classroom based out of Oxford, discussing the Aeneid in Latin. Although I have spent time as a Latin teacher, my halting attempts at speaking the language are far outstripped by graduate and undergraduate students, whose fluency and ease both in reading and speaking the language astonish me, brought up, as I was, in the traditional ways.

This online reading class is one of the activities run by the Oxford Ancient Languages Society (the OALS, formerly the Oxford Latinitas Project). It is the fruit of an increasing change in attitude both amongst students and academics in the United Kingdom towards the value of using spoken Latin as a means of improving proficiency in the language, as well as widening its accessibility.

“I had originally been teaching in the customary way,” said Dr. Melinda Letts, College Tutor in Latin and Ancient Greek at Jesus College Oxford, and a Senior Member of the OALS. “But I became quite troubled by the scope and nature of the need among undergraduates in the field of Latin and Greek language tuition. For a start, the A-levels [the end of school exam taken in the UK by 18-year-olds] seemed to be delivering different sets of skills, so that many students who had Latin and Greek A-levels still needed a great deal of language tuition to help them read texts fluently. At the same time, the numbers of undergraduates who needed to learn the languages from scratch had also steadily increased in recent years. This is because Oxford’s welcome efforts to encourage people from a much wider variety of backgrounds to apply began to bear fruit. Ancient languages are taught mainly in private schools these days, so widening access means we need to teach more and more students the languages. The interest in Classics is not confined to those who had the chance to go to private schools and learn the languages from an early age; the interest is wide, as we can see from the numbers of people applying from a great variety of schools, but many more students at University now have to learn from scratch.

“I had been teaching the languages to these students in the so-called ‘traditional way’ — which is really a misnomer, since it’s a comparatively recent invention. I hated seeing the students whom I had met during the admissions interviews who had been full of excitement about reading ancient literature end up after a term or two seriously struggling with, sometimes even weeping over, the volume of text they had to read on the course, and the level of difficulty. These are clever, highly motivated young people, yet it was clear to me that the task was extremely difficult for many of them. I couldn’t bear teaching something that made the students feel so frustrated and anxious. Yet the languages must continue to be taught. I was still passionate about making sure that students had the best possible language capabilities so that they can develop their own independent responses to the ancient texts. Otherwise, they will end up being dependent on using translations which, because of the socio-economic profile that has traditionally defined classicists, may only reflect an essentially narrow and privileged background. I want students to have a broad set of perspectives, and to have that we need more students who can read the ancient texts confidently for themselves.”

Letts tried to add active-language pedagogy to her training, but with limited success. “A lot of my questions in Latin ended up being written on the board instead of spoken,” she says. The turning point came in 2017, when she encountered Jenny Rallens, Brian Lapsa, and Lewis Scarpellino, and the student organization they had founded: the Oxford Latinitas Project. “They had experience of learning Latin through speaking the spoken language, and had started to run classes and events to get the group known. One event was a Septimana Latina — a week-long spoken Latin trip to Italy held during the Easter Vacation 2018. I went on this, and was so impressed that I recommended others to go on it as well.”

One of Melinda’s students whose whole outlook on the language was changed by the Oxford Septimana was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2022 at 5:21 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Memes

The Joy of Being Wrong

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29 March 2022 at 1:55 pm

The Red Wedding for Rural Pharmacies

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Biden just tried to regulate CVS, United Health, and Cigna. Cigna struck back, and is now trying to wipe out independent pharmacies and harm patients. Plus, antitrust enforcers are getting real.

First some good news. Last week, I reported on how a bad judge dismissed an important antitrust suit against Amazon. Well the state Attorney General involved, Karl Racine, just said he will be filing a motion for reconsideration, which is basically an appeal. Yay!

Ok, onward. Today I’m writing about what happens when a monopolist gets mad. In this case, it’s health giant Cigna taking revenge on rural pharmacies and patients after the Biden administration tried to slightly reduce the firm’s profits from Medicare prescription drug benefits.

I’ll also show how antitrust enforcers have stopped being polite and are starting to get real. The FTC’s Lina Khan is going after TurboTax maker Intuit for false and deceptive practices, and the Antitrust Division’s Jonathan Kanter blocked a big but obscure merger of port crane producers.

And now…

series Game of Thrones was The Rains of Castamere, otherwise known as the ‘Red Wedding.’ The Red Wedding is perhaps the ugliest and most disproportionate sense of revenge ever aired on TV. In it, a regional warlord named Robb Stark attends a wedding of one of his vassals that is supposed to help patch up a minor dispute with a fellow warlord, Walder Frey. The wedding is at Frey’s castle, and Frey invites Stark, his family, and his soldiers to feast. For a time, everyone makes merry, but towards the end of the evening, Frey has his troops ambush Stark and his now-drunk band. Frey has everyone massacred, and even has one of his soldiers stab Stark’s pregnant wife in the belly to ensure he kills the unborn child.

The message from Frey to all future rivals was crystal clear. Don’t mess with me. Though fictional, Game of Thrones draws from medieval history, and such tales of vengeance are not unusual. English history, French history, and many empires of conquest pursued such a strategy of brutalizing subjects so viciously they wouldn’t consider fighting back in the future. These strategies are common because they work. For instance, Mongol empire had many cities surrender without a fight, due to fear that the Mongols would massacre everyone inside should they put up an inch of resistance.

The point of these stories isn’t just about geopolitics, but what happens when humans have too much power over other humans. Which brings me to the problem of monopolies, and what some of them do when they are even slightly challenged. A few months ago, the Biden administration put out a rule to regulate the pharmacy benefits management business, an opaque but massive part in the pharmaceutical drug supply chain. PBMs handle the drug benefit piece of insurance plans. They maintain a list of drugs for insurance companies, they negotiate drug prices, and they manage reimbursements to pharmacies.

The original idea behind PBMs is they would be able to get enough bargaining power by representing multiple insurance companies that they could negotiate to bring down drug prices. And accumulate bargaining power they did, merging until three PBMs control 80% of the insurance market. They are also vertically integrated with insurance companies and drug store chains. The top three PBMs are owned by CVS, United Health, and Cigna.

Unfortunately, because of an exemption from anti-kickback laws, PBMs don’t use their bargaining power to reduce consumer prices. Instead, they force pharmaceutical firms to compete over who will give the PBM the biggest kickback, which in the industry is known as a rebate. Take insulin. In 2013, Sanofi gave a 2-4% kickback to PBMs to prefer their product to customers. In 2018, that number went up to 56%. In other words, more than half of the price of insulin is going to a middleman who does nothing more than push around paper.

The many bad practices of PBMs are legendary. PBMs often force customers to buy more expensive drugs over their generic counterparts, likely because they get kickbacks when customers do so. This ends up making this obscure group of firms a lot money. The combined revenue of the top three firms, who comprise just a small part of the U.S. health system, is larger than the entire amount France spends on all medical care for its entire population.

It gets worse. PBMs all own mail-order pharmacies, and they are increasingly mandating that patients use those mail-order pharmacies instead of the local pharmacy around the corner. Moreover, PBMs now have so much power they are able to claw back money randomly from pharmacies months after a drug was dispensed, using something called a Direct and Indirect Remuneration fee. (DIR fees are only used for Medicare plans, but that is still 37% of the market.) For independent pharmacies, DIR fees are impossible to plan for, they are opaque, and they end up raising prices for consumers.

PBMs are particularly bad for independent pharmacies, who are a critical lifeline in many underserved parts of America. 77% of independent pharmacies serve communities with fewer than 50,000 people. In these places, the independent pharmacist often is the health care infrastructure. Seven in ten do free home delivery, a service which is virtually non-existent with chains. The amount that PBMs have been reimbursing these pharmacists has been going down for years, to the point that many are losing money depending on the medicine they are filling for customers. To put it differently, it’s the equivalent of Amazon raising fees on third party sellers, or Tyson cutting the amount they pay to cattle ranchers.

A few months ago, the Biden administration proposed eliminating most DIR fees, which would get rid of a good, but not critical, profit center for giant PBMs. It looked like a nice win for the anti-monopolists, patients, and independent pharmacies. Last week, however, a contact passed me a new contract from Express Scripts, the giant PBM owned by Cigna.

Cigna has about a quarter of the PBM market, which means that one out of every four people who goes to a pharmacy to get drugs is using Cigna insurance. There’s regional variation, so in some places Cigna won’t have much market share, while in states like Georgia, something like 50% of the Medicare drug plans are Cigna plans. As one pharmacist put it to me, “If you don’t sign these contracts, then a third of patients won’t come to me because they won’t be able to get their services through their insurance benefits.” In other words, pharmacists can’t turn away a third of the people who come into the store, so they tend accept whatever terms Cigna offers.

And as it turns out, Cigna’s offer to pharmacists just got a lot worse. PBM pricing is insanely weird and complex, so I’ll try to explain it to you. The short story is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2022 at 1:52 pm

Has Higher Education in the United States Lost Its Way?

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The editors of the MIT Press Reader interview Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner, authors of The Real World of College: What Higher Education Is and What It Can Be.

For their book The Real World of College, Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner, along with their research team, spent five years visiting 10 disparate campuses, carrying out over 2,000 intensive interviews with students, alumni, faculty, administrators, parents, trustees, and others. What they found challenged characterizations in the media: Students are not preoccupied by political correctness, free speech, or even the cost of college. They are most concerned about their GPA and their resumes; they see jobs and earning potential as more important than learning. Many say they face mental health challenges, fear that they don’t belong, and feel a deep sense of alienation.

The authors’ regretful conclusion: Many, perhaps most, U.S. colleges have lost — or lost sight of — their principal reason for being. “By virtue of the many activities available on campus, motivations for attending college, often unhelpful expectations generated in secondary school, and the myriad of mixed messages on traditional media and social media,” the authors write in the book’s introduction, “colleges are overwhelmed by mission sprawl.” They contend that to remedy this schools must focus sharply on their core educational mission. We asked Fischman and Gardner, both recognized authorities on education and learning, to tell us more about their exhaustive study and what postsecondary education reform in America might look like.

How did you decide to embark on this comprehensive study of the state of higher education?

For a quarter of a century, both of us have been studying the nature of good work (see When we worked with young people, we found that they typically knew what good work was and admired it from afar. But they felt that they could not afford to do good work, because if they behaved properly, they would be scooped by peers who cut corners. Good work was “for later” in life, after success had been assured.

Of course, this disturbed us. And so, we began to work with college students in the Northeast, with various kinds of interventions. We realized that we needed to do this in a far more systematic way, so we embarked on our ambitious study of American colleges — interviewing in-depth over 2,000 individuals at 10 schools. The campuses we visited range from highly selective private schools to less selective public institutions; they differ in terms of region, demography, and declared missions. It took us 10 years, with the help of a few dozen research assistants, to design, carry out, analyze the data, and write up our findings.

What was the most unexpected thing you learned?

There are a few things. First, across disparate campuses, students are far more similar than we had anticipated. They have similar goals and concerns and even use the same words to describe their experiences! We find few, if any, differences based on background or where they currently attend school.

Second, what you read about in the news is not on the minds of most students — free speech, political correctness, and even the cost of college rarely came up. Rather it was issues of mental health, and a sense of belonging or alienation. The exceptions to the point about free speech occurred right before or after a controversial speaker came to campus. We have continued to interview students after our study was completed — and it is true that at select schools, students sometimes feel silenced, afraid to say what they think. They are afraid that they will be misinterpreted, judged, and cancelled. We find that on the whole, students are uncomfortable discussing ethical issues.

In terms of the cost of college, this rarely came up organically as a topic of concern among students (adults assume that this is more of a concern for students). The cost of college was indeed a determining factor for students in deciding where to enroll (once they received their acceptances and learned about financial assistance decisions), but once they were in college, it did not seem to come up much for them. The only exception is when some students talked about tension with students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Another surprising finding was the egocentrism of students — our students use the world “I” and “me” 11 times as much as “we,” “us,” or “our.” We believe that this egocentric focus may be particularly characteristic of U.S. students, and during this period of time. We find this worrisome.

Lastly: the misalignment between . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2022 at 1:20 pm

Good lather and exceptional razor pleasure

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Today I failed to get my usual olfactory hit from Meißner Tremonia’s Exotic Elemi, but that is probably just a transitory disability on my part. The lather itself was quite nice — I took my time and loaded my Simpson Emperor 3 Super well, and I enjoyed the lathering for a while.

Then I picked up the razor and started to shave and was bowled over by how pleasant it was. The razor is an Above the Tie S1, and the blade a previously used Treet Platinum. (I checked the blade after the shave because I was curious about why the shave seems so stunningly spectacular today.

Three easy passes to perfection, then a splash of Pashana with a squirt of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel mixed in. Wonderful way to start the day.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Baker Street Blend, a favorite:

Baker Street Blend features Lapsang Souchong, smooth Keemun, rich Ceylon, Gunpowder, and floral Jasmine.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2022 at 11:15 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

A palate cleanser for the previous post: “Misty,” with Stan Getz

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Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2022 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Jazz, Video

A clear and classic case of corruption: How Joe Manchin Aided Coal and Earned Millions

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is a corrupt politician of the worst sort, one who seems focused on using his public office for private gain. And he will get away with it because, by and large, the US avoids punishing powerful people. Christopher Flavelle and Julie Tate report in the NY Times (gift link, no paywall):

GRANT TOWN, W.Va. — On a hilltop overlooking Paw Paw Creek, 15 miles south of the Pennsylvania border, looms a fortresslike structure with a single smokestack, the only viable business in a dying Appalachian town.

The Grant Town power plant is also the link between the coal industry and the personal finances of Joe Manchin III, the Democrat who rose through state politics to reach the United States Senate, where, through the vagaries of electoral politics, he is now the single most important figure shaping the nation’s energy and climate policy.

Mr. Manchin’s ties to the Grant Town plant date to 1987, when he had just been elected to the West Virginia Senate, a part-time job with base pay of $6,500. His family’s carpet business was struggling.

Opportunity arrived in the form of two developers who wanted to build a power plant in Grant Town, just outside Mr. Manchin’s district. Mr. Manchin, whose grandfather went to work in the mines at age 9 and whose uncle died in a mining accident, helped the developers clear bureaucratic hurdles.

Then he did something beyond routine constituent services. He went into business with the Grant Town power plant.

Mr. Manchin supplied a type of low-grade coal mixed with rock and clay known as “gob” that is typically cast aside as junk by mining companies but can be burned to produce electricity. In addition, he arranged to receive a slice of the revenue from electricity generated by the plant — electric bills paid by his constituents.

The deal inked decades ago has made Mr. Manchin, now 74, a rich man.

While the fact that Mr. Manchin owns a coal business is well-known, an examination by The New York Times offers a more detailed portrait of the degree to which Mr. Manchin’s business has been interwoven with his official actions. He created his business while a state lawmaker in anticipation of the Grant Town plant, which has been the sole customer for his gob for the past 20 years, according to federal data. At key moments over the years, Mr. Manchin used his political influence to benefit the plant. He urged a state official to approve its air pollution permit, pushed fellow lawmakers to support a tax credit that helped the plant, and worked behind the scenes to facilitate a rate increase that drove up revenue for the plant — and electricity costs for West Virginians.

Records show that several energy companies have held ownership stakes in the power plant, major corporations with interests far beyond West Virginia. At various points, those corporations have sought to influence the Senate, including legislation before committees on which Mr. Manchin sat, creating what ethics experts describe as a conflict of interest.

As the pivotal vote in an evenly split Senate, Mr. Manchin has blocked legislation that would speed the country’s transition to wind, solar and other clean energy and away from coal, oil and gas, the burning of which is dangerously heating the planet. With the war in Ukraine and resulting calls to boycott Russian gas, Mr. Manchin has joined Republicans to press for more American gas and oil production to fill the gap on the world market.

But as the Grant Town plant continues to burn coal and pay dividends to Mr. Manchin, it has harmed West Virginians economically, costing them hundreds of millions of dollars in excess electricity fees. That’s because gob is a less efficient power source than regular coal.

Mr. Manchin declined an interview request. His spokeswoman, Sam Runyon, did not respond to detailed questions about his business interests, and whether those interests affected his actions as a public official. Senate ethics rules forbid members from acting on legislation to further their financial interests or those of immediate family members. There is no indication that Mr. Manchin broke any laws.

In the past, Mr. Manchin has repeatedly said that he has acted to protect valued industries in West Virginia, which ranked second in coal production and fifth in natural gas in 2020, according to federal data. He has defended his personal business ties to the Grant Town plant, telling the Charleston Gazette in 1996, “I did it to keep West Virginia people working.”

This account is based on thousands of pages of documents from lawsuits, land records, state regulatory hearings, lobbying and financial disclosures, federal energy data and other records spanning more than three decades. The Times also spoke with three dozen former business associates, current and former government officials, and industry experts.

The documents and interviews show that at every level of Mr. Manchin’s political career, from state lawmaker to U.S. senator, his official actions have benefited his financial interest in the Grant Town plant, blurring the line between public business and private gain. . .

Continue reading. (Gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2022 at 7:03 pm

For red and blue America, a glaring divide in COVID-19 death rates persists 2 years later

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Put simply, the death rate from Covid-19 in red states is 38% higher than it is in blue states. Read the report.

From the report:

Data sourced from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the 10 states with the highest vaccination rates all voted for Biden in 2020, while nine of the 10 states with the lowest vaccination rates voted for Trump. The lone exception was Georgia, which narrowly went for Biden by less than a quarter of a percentage point. . .

An ABC News analysis of federal data found that on average, the death rates in states that voted for Trump were more than 38% higher than in states that voted for Biden, post widespread vaccine availability.

In addition, in the 10 states with the lowest percentage of full vaccinations, death rates were almost twice as high as that of states with the highest vaccination rates, the analysis found.

Over the span of the last 10 months, in the 10 states with the lowest vaccination rates, where between 50 and 54.5% of the total population had been fully vaccinated, there was an average of 153 COVID-19-related deaths per 100,000 residents.

In contrast, during the same time period, the 10 states and jurisdictions with the highest vaccination rates, which all voted for Biden, there was an average of about 82.2 related deaths per 100,000 residents. In all 10 states, about 75% of residents had been fully vaccinated.

Read the whole report. There’s quite a bit more, including a telling graph.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2022 at 6:50 pm

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