Later On

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

Archive for April 8th, 2022

Yes, But

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Take a look at these contrasting pairs: two views of the same thing.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 10:06 pm

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with

Great opening credit sequence

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Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 10:01 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

The Killer in the Kremlin: Samuel Ramani on Putin’s Strategy

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Jonathan Tepperman interviews Samuel Ramani in The Octavian Report:

With the war in Ukraine entering its sixth week, the questions surrounding Russian President Vladimir Putin, his thinking, and his goals have only grown. Why does he seem to hate the West, and Western-leaning leaders like Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, so intensely? Why does he keep doubling down on his failed strategy in Ukraine? What are his larger foreign-policy goals? And what does it say about Russia’s culture or its military that it seems to have embraced war crimes as a tool of state policy? To help answer these questions and more, I called Samuel Ramani, a leading expert on Russia’s foreign policy. The Canadian-born scholar teaches international relations at the University of Oxford, is an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, and has two books coming out this year: one on Russian influence in Africa, and one on Putin’s war in Ukraine. We spoke on Wednesday.

Octavian Report: Let’s start with a very general question: how would you characterize Putin’s governing ideology?

Samuel Ramani: I’d hesitate to put him in a single category, because Putin has been quite amorphous in his foreign policy over the years. There were periods of time, particularly in the early 2000s, when he associated Russia’s status with the expansion of its economic power, with its ongoing sway over its sphere of influence, and with maintaining ties with the West.

After Russia’s economy began declining in 2008, however—thanks to the financial crisis, protracted inconsistencies in energy prices, and the effects of two terms of no economic diversification—Russia started moving toward a revanchist foreign policy focused on promoting illiberalism abroad and assertively consolidating its great-power status.

Given these shifts, I’d argue that Putin is non-ideological and heavily motivated by whatever will preserve his own legitimacy and the system he’s set up, which he describes as “sovereign democracy.” What that means he wants to preserve a form of kind of great-power status that looks good to Russian public. That means sometimes leaning toward acts of fascism—like we’re seeing right now in Ukraine—sometimes leaning toward imperialism and economic coercion and engaging in smaller-scale interventions like Georgia, and sometimes engaging with the West or challenging it.

OR: What people and thinkers have influenced his thinking?

Ramani: The ones who are most often talked about are the Eurasianist philosophers like Aleksandr Dugin in particular. But I find that their influence has been grossly overstated.

There are others who have been much more significant but get much less attention. With regards to Russia’s power projection in defiance of Western norms—whether it’s by backing Bashar al-Assad in Syria, or using debt forgiveness in Africa, or spinning narratives about opposing neocolonialism throughout the Global South—that all comes from figures like Yevgeniy Primakov, Russia’s foreign and prime minister in the late 1990s, as well as intellectuals like Alexei Bogaturov.

As for Russia’s internal political system—which has morphed from an illiberal democracy into a hybrid authoritarian regime into a full-fledged totalitarian regime—that  was heavily shaped by political ideologues like Vladislav Surkov, who came up with the term sovereign democracy in the first place.

OR:  Are these views popular in Russia?

Ramani:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 8:42 pm

Koch group says U.S. should deliver partial “victory” to Russia in Ukraine

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It’s clear where Koch’s loyalties lie. Judd Legum at Popular Information has the report, which begins:

In an internal email obtained exclusively by Popular Information, Stand Together, the influential non-profit group run by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch, argues that the United States should seek to deliver a partial “victory” to Russia in Ukraine.

The email was sent to . . .

Continue reading.

The email stops short of saying we should assist Putin in bombing civilians or executing them and dumping them into mass graves.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 6:49 pm

The world’s oldest pants are a 3,000-year-old engineering marvel

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A fascinating article, given that the subject is a pair of old trousers.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 6:21 pm

Russia targets civilian, including, explicitly, children

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Ukrainian servicemen stand next to a fragment of a Tochka-U missile with a writing in Russian “For children” , on a grass after Russian shelling at the railway station in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Friday, April 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko)

AP reports:

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A missile hit a train station in eastern Ukraine where thousands had gathered Friday, killing at least 52 and wounding dozens more in an attack on a crowd of mostly women and children trying to flee a new, looming Russian offensive, Ukrainian authorities said.

The attack, denounced by some as yet another war crime in the 6-week-old conflict, came as workers unearthed bodies from a mass grave in Bucha, a town near Ukraine’s capital where dozens of killings have been documented after a Russian pullout.

Photos from the station in Kramatorsk showed the dead covered with tarps, and the remnants of a rocket with the words “For the children” painted on it in Russian. About 4,000 civilians had been in and around the station, heeding calls to leave before fighting intensifies in the Donbas region, the office of Ukraine’s prosecutor-general said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who says he expects a tough global response, and other leaders accused Russia’s military of deliberately attacking the station. Russia, in turn, blamed Ukraine, saying it doesn’t use the kind of missile that hit the station — a contention experts dismissed.

Zelenskyy told Ukrainians in his nightly video address Friday that efforts would be taken “to establish every minute of who did what, who gave what orders, where the missile came from, who transported it, who gave the command and how this strike was agreed to.”

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the regional governor of Donetsk, in the Donbas, said  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more in the report, and there are many more photos in a slideshow at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, Ukraine, War

Is this how Russia ends?

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Anand Giridharadas, TIME editor-at-large, writes at The.Ink:

One day, Vladimir Putin will no longer lead Russia. And, according to the writer and journalist Masha Gessen, there may then no longer be a country called Russia to lead.

This was one of many startling analyses I heard in my conversation the other day with Gessen, a Moscow-born, New York-based journalist and writer who is one of our leading thinkers on democracy, autocracy, and the social conditions that foster them. They are the author of several books, including The Future is History, a masterwork about Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and, most recently, Surviving Autocracy.

We spoke about Putin’s endgame in Ukraine, about why to take his nuclear threats seriously, about the West’s hypocrisy in #StandingWithUkraine unless it’s a little inconvenient, about the modern anxieties that have fueled the authoritarian resurgence around the world, about why democratic leaders fail to speak to those anxieties as effectively as autocrats, and about what Gessen envisions for a Russia beyond Putin. . .

You have described Russia as having become a “totalitarian society.” When and why did it cross that line and enter that definition in your mind?

The definition of totalitarianism is a pretty contested thing. I’ve been having an internal debate about it, because the argument I made in the The Future is History is that it had already become a totalitarian society. Possibly not a totalitarian state, but a totalitarian society. What’s happening now is that it’s become an actual totalitarian state.

We learned over the 20th century how totalitarian societies act. My argument in the book was that you could see a society act like that even when the state wasn’t applying the broad terror that we’ve come to accept as the definition of a totalitarian state.

In a totalitarian society, the state actually can’t apply direct pressure on every person at all times, but people can apply that pressure on one another. Totalitarian societies depend on horizontal enforcement of behaviors, whether it’s something small like parents telling their children not to say things in school because it could get the family in trouble or something quite large like we’re seeing in Russia now — for example, painting the letter Z on the walls and parking doors of people who have signed anti-war petitions. Between those two extremes, there’s a continuum of people enforcing ideology and behavioral norms without the state directly requiring them to do so.

The other important thing in a totalitarian society is the absence of public space and public opinion. People are constantly asking the wrong question about Russia, asking, Do people support the war? There’s a recent poll showing that people support the war. At this point, it’s an actual totalitarian society with actual terror. What are you going to do? It’s like asking people, Do you support the war, or would you like to go to prison for 15 years?

But in a totalitarian society, it’s not like people have to hide their opinions. It’s that they don’t have the possibility to form an opinion. Not just because of disinformation, although that matters, but also because it’s a matter of survival to be able to mirror back to the state what the state wants you to say. For most people, there isn’t even the possibility of taking the time or mental energy required to form opinions. That’s not an option because having an opinion is too dangerous.

I once asked my Indian grandmother about how she learned as a little girl in an intensely patriarchal world not to speak up and not to voice her opinion. She said, First, you articulate your thoughts and you get in trouble. Then you think the thoughts, but you stop saying them. Then, finally, you learn to stop thinking the thoughts.

That’s on a private level. That’s remarkable that your grandmother was able to say that. But on a society-wide level, you’re already born or brought into a society where having an opinion is not an option. The defining characteristic of Russian society is loneliness. It’s an incredibly atomized society. It’s a society in which most people have shrinking social circles as they get older, which is actually not unlike the U.S.

It’s a society in which there is no shared space that is not controlled from above. There is no participation in any spontaneous activity that is possible from below. It often places people in crowds, but it renders them profoundly lonely.

There are so many analyses in the media about what Putin wants as well as these debates about his rationality or irrationality. Is he going crazy? Is he paranoid? Does he want power in a conventional way that we can understand? Timothy Snyder had this point about Putin caring about things we don’t value. What is your fundamental understanding of his motivation?

I don’t think . . .

Continue reading.

An interesting question asked later in the interview:

There are dispiriting parallels between what has happened in America in recent years and what has been happening to Russia. I wonder what connections you would draw, if any, in terms of what laid the groundwork in the U.S. and in Russia for a more authoritarian turn.

And, later, this comment:

Erich Fromm very accurately describes preconditions for autocracy in Escape From Freedom. He wrote in the late 1930s and looked at extreme economic anxiety and mass displacement. Extreme economic anxiety related not only to hyperinflation in Germany but more broadly to a changing world, a world in which it was impossible for people to imagine who they’ll be and how they’ll live some years from now, or where their children will be. Those are conditions that are very much present in many parts of the world. There are kinds of societies and governments that try to address anxieties, and there are kinds that don’t. We definitely have the kind that doesn’t. I think that’s a culture-wide failure that isn’t concentrated on the right.

And I think climate change contributes to that anxiety: people do not know what sort of world their children and grandchildren will in habit, but so far — from raging wildfires to drought to torrential rains and flooding — it doesn’t look good and in some regions not habitable.

About the interviewee:

Masha Gessen is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of several books, including “The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.”

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 5:31 pm

The Huge Endeavor to Produce a Tiny Microchip

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The NY Times has an excellent article on the intricacies of manufacturing microchips (gift link, no paywall), written by Don Clark with photographs and video by Philip Cheung. The article begins:

Some feature more than 50 billion tiny transistors that are 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. They are made on gigantic, ultraclean factory room floors that can be seven stories tall and run the length of four football fields.

Microchips are in many ways the lifeblood of the modern economy. They power computers, smartphones, cars, appliances and scores of other electronics. But the world’s demand for them has surged since the pandemic, which also caused supply-chain disruptions, resulting in a global shortage.

That, in turn, is fueling inflation and raising alarms that the United States is becoming too dependent on chips made abroad. The United States accounts for only about 12 percent of global semiconductor manufacturing capacity; more than 90 percent of the most advanced chips come from Taiwan.

Intel, a Silicon Valley titan that is seeking to restore its longtime lead in chip manufacturing technology, is making a $20 billion bet that it can help ease the chip shortfall. It is building two factories at its chip-making complex in Chandler, Ariz., that will take three years to complete, and recently announced plans for a potentially bigger expansion, with new sites in New Albany, Ohio, and Magdeburg, Germany.

Why does making millions of these tiny components mean building — and spending — so big? A look inside Intel production plants in Chandler and Hillsboro, Ore., provides some answers.

Chips, or integrated circuits, began to replace bulky individual transistors in the late 1950s. Many of those tiny components are produced on a piece of silicon and connected to work together. The resulting chips store data, amplify radio signals and perform other operations; Intel is famous for a variety called microprocessors, which perform most of the calculating functions of a computer.

Intel has managed to shrink transistors on its microprocessors to mind-bending sizes. But the rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company can make even tinier components, a key reason Apple chose it to make the chips for its latest iPhones.

Such wins by a company based in Taiwan, an island that China claims as its own, add to signs of a growing technology gap that could put advances in computing, consumer devices and military hardware at risk from both China’s ambitions and natural threats in Taiwan such as earthquakes and drought. And it has put a spotlight on Intel’s efforts to recapture the technology lead.

Chip makers are packing more and more transistors onto each piece of silicon, which is why technology does more each year. It’s also the reason that new chip factories cost billions and fewer companies can afford to build them.

In addition to paying for buildings and machinery, companies must spend heavily to . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) There’s much more — including the photos and video.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

“May I Quote?” — The New Yale Book of Quotations

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Bryan A. Garner, an American lawyer, lexicographer, and teacher, reviews The New Yale Book of Quotations in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

AS A COLLECTOR of reference books — an out-of-control number, I’m afraid — I had a full floor-to-ceiling bookcase of quotation books when, a couple of years ago, I was offered 200 more. A professional speechwriter had retired and wanted to know what to do with his large collection of these books. Even though we’d never met or even corresponded, he somehow concluded that he might bestow them on me — if I’d take them. I suspected I already owned them all. But after he sent me a list of 150 he wagered I didn’t own, and his wager was right, I gratefully accepted the gift.

There were compilations specifically about art, business, literature, politics, religion, science, and sports. There were compilations of single writers such as William F. Buckley Jr., Louis L’Amour, La Rochefoucauld, Will Rogers, William Shakespeare, and Mark Twain. There were even compilations by people not thought of as writers — Charles Barkley (“Anytime I’m on a team, we’ve got a chance to win.”), Bill Clinton, Hubert Humphrey, Adlai Stevenson, Donald Trump, and Jack Welch. The array of available material was stunning.

On reflection, it’s not surprising that a professional speechwriter would collect these things. Think of all the speeches, good and bad, that are peppered with statements attributed to revered predecessors. Listeners are supposed to infer that the speaker has drawn upon a vast reservoir of material gathered from a lifetime of reading. But no: it was probably a quote pulled from such a compilation after two or three minutes of looking.

Two big questions arise for users and compilers of these books: should they be arranged topically or by source? If you want quotations about the subject of research, would you rather have them all in one place under R, or spread throughout the book under the names of the people who uttered the statements? My own preference has always been for the former: show me all the research quotations together. Or honesty. Or marriage. Or wit.

But the most authoritative quotation books have always  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Books, Writing

Why Putin Underestimated the West

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Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay write in Foreign Affairs:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has proved to be a strategic miscalculation of historic proportions. Having failed to produce a quick victory for Moscow, the  unprovoked invasion faces a ferocious Ukrainian insurgency that has already caused some 15,000 Russian combat fatalities, roughly the same number that the Soviet Union lost in its entire nine-year campaign in Afghanistan. The Russian economy has been battered by extraordinary international sanctions. Calls for Putin to be tried as a war criminal have echoed around the world. It is safe to say that none of this was what Putin expected when he launched his attack.

How did Putin get things so wrong? In part, he clearly overestimated Russian military power and underestimated the Ukrainian resistance. But just as important was his misreading of the West. His long personal experience—observing the weak international response to Russia’s wars in Chechnya and Georgia, its annexation of Crimea in 2014, and its support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad—convinced him that the West would abandon Ukraine. Given Europe’s concerns about Washington’s commitment to European security in the wake of both the Trump presidency and the Biden administration’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, he may also have anticipated that the invasion would divide the United States and its European allies, thus delivering a larger strategic victory than simply the installation of a puppet government in Kyiv.

Had Putin been a better student of how Western democracies have responded to vital threats to their security, he would have understood why these assumptions were wrong. True, one lesson of the past century is that Western democracies have frequently ignored emerging security threats, as many of them did in the lead-up to the two world wars, the Korean War, and the September 11 attacks. As the U.S. diplomat and historian George Kennan once put it, democracies are like a prehistoric monster so indifferent to what is happening around him that “you practically have to whack off his tail to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed.” But an equally important lesson of the past century is that when their tails are whacked hard enough, Western democracies react with speed, determination, and strength. For the United States and its European allies, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—which in size and scope constitutes the largest use of military force on the European continent since 1945 and poses a direct threat to NATO territory—has provided just such a case.

Yet even though the Western response has been surprisingly robust, it is far too soon for the West to declare victory. If democracies are capable of forming a swift and united front against exceptional threats, they have also long been prone to shifting priorities and turning attention inward once the immediate crisis has passed. For Western leaders, then, having quickly closed ranks to confront Putin’s aggression, the challenge now is how to sustain that unity. U.S. President Joe Biden stressed that point in Warsaw in March: “We must remain unified today and tomorrow and the day after and for the years and decades to come.” This is no easy task. To achieve that goal over the long term, the United States and its allies must overcome the political polarization, shifting economic burdens, and changes of leadership that have often fragmented the West in the past. Otherwise, the unity over Ukraine could turn out to be short-lived, leaving the West once again divided and autocrats strengthened.

PUTIN’S MISTAKE

It is not surprising that Putin would have assumed that the West would respond to a Russian invasion of Ukraine with harsh rhetoric but not much more. In 2008, when Putin sent Russian forces to dismember Georgia, French President Nicolas Sarkozy rushed to negotiate a cease-fire that kept Russian gains in place, while the United States and other European countries declined to back up their official dismay with even symbolic sanctions. The reaction six years later to Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his instigation of a separatist war in eastern Ukraine was only slightly tougher: although Russia was evicted from the G-8 and subjected to limited sanctions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama both ruled out sending lethal military aid to help Ukraine defend itself.

In similar fashion, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 3:50 pm

Short walk but 10 PAI points

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Very windy today, so I cut the walk short. My cadence was 111 steps per minute, which is brisk, and during the first leg of the walk (an uphill leg) my heart rate accelerated nicely, as you see in the chart below,  but as I started the downhill leg, even though I maintained the pace, my heart rate dropped — damn that increasing fitness! 🙂 It makes it hard to accrue points, since the best source is the amount of time spent in VO2 Max..

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 1:57 pm

“Unfollow”: Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church

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Tom Stafford writes at Reasonable People:

Westboro Baptist Church is a small faith-based community from Topeka, Kansas. Their white church building is surrounded by the homes of families who are part of the Church. They are a SPLC designated hate group, who you may know from their inflammatorily named website – godhatesfags.com – or from their devoted picketing of the funerals of US soldiers killed abroad.

They are still going. On May 4th 2022 they are picketing the T-Mobile Centre in Kansas City, because Justin Bieber is playing there. You can read their blog and hear about how deaths in Ukraine, or new coronavirus variants, reflect God’s Judgement on a sinful world.

Megan-Phelps Roper is the granddaughter of the founder of the church, and spent 26 years with the church. She was, as she self-describes, “all in”: picketing, proselytising, giving interviews and leading the charge of the Church’s flamboyant social media presence.

In November 2012 she left the church, her family, and the absolute certainty of their doctrine. Unfollow is her autobiography, the story of her life and the history of her coming to the realisation that her beliefs, however fervently held, were wrong.

Unfollow gives an up close view of what it was like inside a group whose beliefs are dramatically at odds with wider society. The Church’s beliefs seem so extreme, their commitment to alienating themselves from the mainstream so complete, that I found myself surprised with some of what Phelps-Roper described about Westboro Baptist Church.

I though a hate group would be dominated by hate – by cruelty, misery and paranoia. Instead, Phelps-Roper describes a childhood which had many idyllic elements. She lived with her large extended family (one of eleven siblings!) and fellow church members, with routines dominated by service (such as picketing) but also lots of fun, laughter and love. Meals and parties. The extent of her love for her family shines on every page, and you can read the whole book as a letter of explanation to family still in the church (including, as far as I know, her parents and the majority of her siblings). Unfollow also describes authoritarian, cruel and psychologically manipulative elements to her upbringing, but the extent – and sustaining joy – of the tight, loving, family bonds were not what I expected, even if they make sense (since Church members tried to provoke the rest of the world, obviously they would need to stick tight together).

I thought a hate group would be closed to outside influences, but it seems the Church welcomed them in. They were so confident in their rightness that they didn’t see any need to ban modern influences like Hollywood movies or pop music. In fact, all the better for Church members to develop their hurtful parodies of current events and popular culture. Elton John’s “Candle in the wind” was rewritten as “Harlot full of sin” by the Church so they could celebrate the death of Princess Diana . Phelps-Roper’s description of the joyful siblings singing . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 12:38 pm

The Secret Plot To Unleash Corporate Power

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

In today’s issue, I have something for you to do that will have a real impact on antitrust and monopoly power. I’ll tell you about a secret plan in 1980 that unleashed corporate power, and how that plan has worked over the last forty plus years. Then I’ll describe what’s happening today, and how key antitrust enforcers Lina Khan and Jonathan Kanter are trying, for the first time, to reverse course. And they are asking for your help, which will take nothing more than a few minutes on your computer.

Time to Have an Impact

I’ve been writing about antitrust for a few years now, exposing various problems with mergers or unfair conduct in the marketplace. One of my first pieces that went viral was The Coming Boeing Bailout, which was on how the merger between Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas led to the 737 Max fiasco. Bad mergers that lead to market power are behind so many social problems, in areas like big tech, but also in niche industries like missiles, cheerleadingportable toiletsroad salt, and mixed martial arts.

But I often hear a comment or question that goes something like this. “I agree with you that consolidation is a problem. What can I do to help?”

Well, today I’m going to answer that question. A few months ago, the Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan and the Antitrust Division chief Jonathan Kanter launched a project to revamp how the government enforces antitrust law. Usually, this process would be the province of economists and insiders, who would ignore the public’s views on big business. But Khan and Kanter, for reasons I’ll go into, aren’t pursuing this path. Instead, they are actually asking the public, aka you and me, for feedback. This process, and their request to the public, is a big deal.

So if you want to help stop monopoly power, you can submit a comment to the government telling them what you think about mergers. My organization has set up a webpage to help you do that, which you can access at this link. Go there, and tell the government what you think about how they conduct merger policy. The deadline is April 21, so that’s in a week and a half. You can submit anonymously as well (though you’ll have to do that at the FTC/DOJ site directly, which is a bit harder to use). So if you’re worried about retaliation, just do it without your name attached.

If you have thoughts on mergers, if you’ve been through one, or bought products from a company that merged or if you just want to say ‘no more power to big business,’ go ahead and use this link to send them your thoughts. Are you mad about ski resort consolidation? Rental cars? Have you been laid off after going through a merger? Been forced to sell your company? Seen obvious inefficiencies after a merger? Been mistreated by a tech platform? They want to hear it. (If you want to read comments that people have already submitted, you can find them here.)

Here’s why doing this matters. Forty years ago, the antitrust insiders launched a secret plan to get rid of anti-monopoly law. Their plan worked. And this is the first real attempt to fight back.

The Secret Plot to Unleash Monopoly Power

There aren’t that many actual conspiracies in politics, but this is a real one. In 1980, influential thinkers advising the incoming Reagan administration were trying to figure out how to repeal antitrust laws and unleash unfettered monopoly power. They realized that repealing the law outright would be unpopular, and that Congress wouldn’t like it. So they decided to repeal the antitrust laws, de facto, by doing it quietly through administrative action.

Here’s a memo that a researcher at my organization found in the Reagan library. It’s titled “Throttling Back on Antitrust: A Practical Proposal for Deregulation.” In it, two important Chicago Schoolers, George Stigler and Richard Posner, made the case that Reagan could get rid of antitrust law if his Antitrust chief just stopped bringing cases. But to do that, they would need a policy change in an obscure document known as ‘merger guidelines’ that organize antitrust enforcement.

Here’s the key text in the memo.

President Reagan can throttle back on antitrust enforcement without asking for new legislation or higher appropriations without antagonizing politically influential constituencies.

He has only to appoint as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice a lawyer committed to enforcing the antitrust laws in accordance with the economic consensus position, i.e., confining enforcement to price fixing and large horizontal mergers. The head of the Antitrust Division could promptly (a) issue modified Merger Guidelines (the Guidelines issued in 1968, during the Johnson Administration, have never been revised), raising the threshold market share percentages at which the Department will challenge horizontal mergers and abolishing the vertical and conglomerate prohibitions in the Guidelines; (b) announce his willingness to intervene in FTC and private cases where the position of the plaintiff is contrary to sound antitrust principles; and (c) stop the automatic annual increases in the Antitrust Division’s bloated appropriations.

In other words, they simply needed to rewrite how antitrust was enforced, instead of getting the statute repealed. This would include abolishing prohibitions against most mergers, and then making challenges against all but the extremely obviously bad ones impossible. The DOJ would also cut its own funding over time, and try to intervene in courts to stop private antitrust suits.

But wouldn’t the courts be upset, and demand that the DOJ follow precedent? In fact, no. Stigler and Posner believed that the DOJ could change the law, as “many courts would probably defer to the announced positions of the Justice Department, viewed as a responsible enforcer of the antitrust laws.” All they needed was the right Antitrust chief.

Enter Bill Baxter, an honest man, but a true believer in the new Chicago School of law and economics.

Baxter was a Stanford professor, but also a total zealot in favor of getting rid of traditional constraints on monopolists. Though he was charged with enforcing the laws as written, he simply refused to do that. He called Supreme Court decisions mandating strong antitrust rules “rubbish” and “wacko,” and circulated a memo in the department calling one such precedent “idiocy.” He empowered economists at DOJ to veto cases, and these economists quickly became known as “case killers.” All of this caused blowback in Congress, but as predicted by Stigler and Posner, conservative Senator Strom Thurmond among others prevented Congress from checking Baxter.

In 1982, Baxter came out with new merger guidelines that completely changed how the Antitrust Division worked. The agencies stopped enforcing against most mergers, and eventually revised the guidelines several more times weakening them further. The effect of Baxter’s choices were catalytic in the economy. Here’s a chart of what happened in the mergers and acquisitions world as a result. . .

Continue reading. The chart is shocking.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 12:29 pm

The Gladiator Diet – How Vegetarian Athletes Stack Up

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Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 12:10 pm

The Nutty, Chewy, Surprisingly Colorful World of Tempeh

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A very interesting article in Taste by Max Falkowitz. He describes making Indonesian-style tempeh, in which the skins of the soybeans are removed. I make Malaysian-style tempeh, which leaves the skins in place: easier and more nutritious. His article begins:

When New York summers approach the sweaty heat of the Indonesian tropics, Fefe Anggono likes to make tempeh—but only if she’s in a good mood. “It’s a fermented food,” she says, “so if you don’t feel happy, the tempeh won’t become tempeh.” Growing up in the city of Surabaya, Indonesia, she ate it weekly, she explains, most often simply sliced and fried, to be served with rice, vegetables, and sambal. “In America, tempeh is considered a specialty health food that’s expensive or hard to find, but in Indonesia, it’s an affordable food enjoyed by everyone—rich and poor, young and old.”

These days, Anggono prepares royally delicious tempeh dishes for her catering company, Taste of Surabaya, which shows up at the New York Indonesian Food Bazaar, a frenetic monthly gathering of Indonesian cooks in Queens who sell dozens of homemade specialties to a diverse, though largely Indonesian, crowd. I love the crisp bite and spicy-sweet verve of Anggono’s oseng tempe: a stir-fry of browned tempeh batons and chiles cooked with kecap manis (sweet Indonesian soy sauce), oyster sauce, and tamarind. She also makes a mean kering tempe, and in a just world, that jumble of crisp fried tempeh cubes, tiny dried anchovies, and peanuts all glazed in palm sugar would be offered as a bar snack across the country.

Having had the good fortune to grow up near one of the largest Indonesian communities in the United States, I have long been fascinated by tempeh. Often called a “plant-based” protein for its soybean content, tempeh’s sliceable-cake texture and nutritional benefits are the consequence of fungal digestion. The odd cheese rind aside, it is the only fungal food where we eat its mycelium—the mesh of rootlike filaments that comprise the main body of the organism underground—instead of a mushroom that rises from the earth for the purposes of reproduction.

With a protein density comparable to beef or chicken, tempeh is packed with vitamins, low in carbs, and free of cholesterol. It is this “superfood” status that has dominated the American commercial and cultural narrative about tempeh since its introduction to the country in the 1960s. The reasons are complex and dispiriting; they also offer hints as to why, in a time of fervent interest in fermented foods, mushrooms, and meat-free eating, tempeh has remained on the fringes of so many public conversations. But once you open your mind to what tempeh is rather than what it can replace, you can begin to appreciate this nutty-tasting Indonesian specialty on its own terms. That’s where the joy of tempeh begins.

While tofu appears in cuisines across East and Southeast Asia, tempeh is decidedly Indonesian. Written records date back to . . .

Continue reading. Tempeh really is delicious. Here’s another description of how I make it.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 11:03 am

As simple as ABC — and London Afternoon

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Antica Barbieria Colla makes quite a nice shaving soap, which gave generously of itself to the lather this morning, readily loading my Whipped Dog 22mm silvertip brush. 

The iKon Short Comb remains a bit problematic for me. I thought I had found a way to be friends, by focusing closely on riding the cap. The shave this time was comfortable, but I still picked up two small nicks — very small, and quickly vanquished by My Nik Is Sealed, but still. I think I might give this razor a rest for a while.

The ABC aftershave milk separates, as you see, but I have the habit of shaking any aftershave vigorously before applying, since ingredients might not separate so visibly as in this photo. I very much like this aftershave milk. 

The tea this morning is Murchie’s London Afternoon: “Fragrant rose petals are interwoven with smoky Lapsang Souchong, sweetened with creamy vanilla and a touch of bright bergamot to create a comforting blend perfect for the fireside.”

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 10:52 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

Conservative Justices are inconsistent on state’s right

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Heather Cox Richardson points out how the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court support originalism only in service of conservative goals. She writes:

Today, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to become Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s nominee by a vote of 53 to 47, with three Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in favor of confirmation. The three Republicans voting yes were Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Mitt Romney (R-UT).

Jackson’s elevation will not change the legal philosophy of the court. She will replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who was one of the three justices still on the court who do not adhere to the concept of “originalism,” which argues that the court must largely defer to state power rather than use the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect civil rights within the states. Six of the current nine justices, including the three appointed by former president Donald Trump, favor originalism.

It is likely that Justice Jackson will largely write dissents as her colleagues dismantle the legal frameworks that have shaped modern America. The ones currently on the table are the rights to abortion, marriage across racial lines, birth control, and gay marriage, but it is not only civil rights that are at risk. So are business regulation and protections for workers and consumers, and a decision last night suggests that the current Supreme Court will not defer to states when right-wing principles are at stake.

By a 5 to 4 decision, the court last night limited the power of states to stop big development projects that state officials worry will hurt the state’s environment. It did so under the so-called “shadow docket,” a system, rarely used in the past but now a key part of the court’s decision-making process, in which the court hands down decisions on an emergency basis without briefings or written decisions, so we have no idea on what grounds they are making their ruling. The American Petroleum Institute, the Interstate National Gas Association of America, and the National Hydropower Association all applauded the decision.

Jackson brings to the court a stellar record as well as experience as a public defender. She is the first justice with this experience since Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice, who left the court in 1991. Public defenders are a central part of our legal system, for if indeed everyone is equal before the law, it is crucial for everyone to have legal representation before the court. The Supreme Court itself recognized this principle in Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), although two current justices have suggested they would overturn it if given the opportunity.

Jackson’s diverse experience is vital to a Supreme Court that is a historical outlier in its uniformity of professional backgrounds. While she brings experience as a public defender to the court, there is no one on the court who has ever served in elective office. Historically, presidents have always sought to have at least a few justices who understand politics because they have been part of the political system and thus understand that what they are doing in their chamber is very real life to those of us on the outside. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice, was the last justice on the court who had held elected office; she had served in the Arizona state senate. She left the court in 2006.

Justice Jackson, though, brings something brand new and vital to the U.S. Supreme Court. As Justice Marshall broke the Supreme Court’s color barrier, and Justice O’Connor broke the Supreme Court’s gender barrier, she is breaking her own barrier: She is the Supreme Court’s first Black female justice.

Justice Jackson’s perspective on the law and its effect on those of us who live here is crucially important. Also important, though, is that her elevation to the highest court in the land demonstrates the principle, however poorly we might honor it on occasion, that we are all equal before the law.

Today, Vice President Kamala Harris, the nation’s first Black vice president, presided over the Senate chamber for the momentous vote. Farnoush Amiri and Lisa Mascaro of the Associated Press described what came next. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus had . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 5:20 am

Posted in GOP, Government, Law, Politics

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