Later On

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

Archive for July 24th, 2022

More canaries keeling over in the coal mine of American democracy

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Heather Cox Richardson’s column tonight is another warning that Americans must wake up to the danger they face.

On Friday, Axios began to publish a deeply researched and important series by Jonathan Swan, explaining that if former president Trump retakes power, he and allies like his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), and head of Trump’s social media network Devin Nunes are determined to purge our nonpartisan civil service and replace it with loyalists. In a normal administration, a new president gets to replace around 4000 political appointees, but most government employees are in positions designed to be nonpartisan. Trump’s team wants to gut this system and put in place people loyal to him and his agenda.

When he campaigned for the presidency, Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of officeholders who, he suggested, were just sucking tax dollars. Once in office, though, Trump grew increasingly angry at the civil servants who continued to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia, insisting that figures like former FBI director Robert Mueller and former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, were Democrats who wanted to hound him from office. (They were, in fact, Republicans.)

Trump’s first impeachment trial inflamed his fury at those he considered disloyal. The day after Republican senators acquitted him on February 6, 2020, he fired two key impeachment witnesses: U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the top expert on Ukraine at the National Security Council. Ironically, Vindman had testified in the impeachment hearings that he had reassured his father, who had lived in the Soviet Union and was worried about Vindman’s testifying against the president, not to worry because in America, “right matters.” Trump fired Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny, at the same time, although he had nothing to do with the impeachment.

A Trump advisor told CNN the firings were intended to demonstrate that disloyalty to the president would not be tolerated.

Within days, Trump had put fierce loyalist John McEntee in charge of the White House office of personnel, urging him to ferret out anyone insufficiently loyal and to make sure the White House hired only true believers. McEntee had been Trump’s personal aide until he failed a security clearance background check and it turned out he was under investigation for financial crimes; then–White House chief of staff John Kelly fired him, and Trump promptly transferred McEntee to his reelection campaign. On February 13, 2020, though, Trump suddenly put McEntee, who had no experience in personnel or significant government work, in charge of the hiring of the 4000 political appointees and gave him extraordinary power.

Trump also wanted to purge the 50,000 nonpartisan civil servants who are hired for their skills, rather than politics. But since 1883, those jobs have been protected from exactly the sort of political purge Trump and McEntee wanted to execute.

A policy researcher who came to Trump’s Domestic Policy Council from the Heritage Foundation, James Sherk, found that employees who work in “a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making or policy-advocating” job can be exempted from civil service protections.

On October 21, 2020, Trump signed an executive order creating a new category of public servant who could be hired by agency heads without having to go through the merit-based system in place since 1883, and could be fired at will. This new “Schedule F” would once again allow presidents to appoint cronies to office, while firing those insufficiently loyal. One Trump loyalist at the Office of Management and Budget identified 88% of his agency as moveable to Schedule F.

Biden rescinded Trump’s executive order on January 22, 2021, just two days after taking office.

According to Swan, Trump has not forgotten the plan. Since the January 6 insurrection, he has called those former colleagues who did not support his coup “ungrateful” and “treasonous.” In a new administration, he would insist on people who had “courage,” and would reinstate the Schedule F plan in order to purge the career civil service of all employees he believes insufficiently loyal to him.

The idea of reducing our professional civil service to those who offer loyalty to a single leader is yet another fundamental attack on democracy.

Democracy depends on . . .

Continue reading. And perhaps think about your Plan B.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2022 at 10:42 pm

The Scientist Who Killed Millions and Saved Billions

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A life with a bad wrong turn. And watch to the end for an interesting way of treating CO2.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2022 at 6:08 pm

America’s Self-Obsession Is Killing Its Democracy

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Brian Klaas, a contributing writer at The Atlantic, a global-politics professor at University College London, and the author of Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Ushas an ominous article in The Atlantic:

In 2009, a violent mob stormed the presidential palace in Madagascar, a deeply impoverished red-earthed island off the coast of East Africa. They had been incited to violence by opportunistic politicians and media personalities, successfully triggering a coup. A few years later, I traveled to the island, to meet the new government’s ringleaders, the same men who had unleashed the mob.

As we sipped our coffees and I asked them questions, one of the generals I was interviewing interrupted me.

“How can you Americans lecture us on democracy?” he asked. “Sometimes, the president who ends up in your White House isn’t even the person who got the most votes.”

“Our election system isn’t perfect,” I replied then. “But, with all due respect, our politicians don’t incite violent mobs to take over the government when they haven’t won an election.”

For decades, the United States has proclaimed itself a “shining city upon a hill,” a beacon of democracy that can lead broken nations out of their despotic darkness. That overconfidence has been instilled into its citizens, leading me a decade ago to the mistaken, naive belief that countries such as Madagascar have something to learn from the U.S. rather than also having wisdom to teach us.

During the Donald Trump presidency, the news covered a relentless barrage of “unprecedented” attacks on the norms and institutions of American democracy. But they weren’t unprecedented. Similar authoritarian attacks had happened plenty of times before. They were only unprecedented to us.

I’ve spent the past 12 years studying the breakdown of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism around the world, in places such as Thailand, Tunisia, Belarus, and Zambia. I’ve shaken hands with many of the world’s democracy killers.

My studies and experiences have taught me that democracies can die in many ways. In the past, most ended in a quick death. Assassinations can snuff out democracy in a split second, coups in an hour or two, and revolutions in a day. But in the 21st century, most democracies die like a chronic but terminal patient. The system weakens as the disease spreads. The agony persists over years. Early intervention increases the rate of survival, but the longer the disease festers, the more that miracles become the only hope.

American democracy is dying. There are plenty of medicines that would cure it. Unfortunately, our political dysfunction means we’re choosing not to use them, and as time passes, fewer treatments become available to us, even though the disease is becoming terminal. No major prodemocracy reforms have passed Congress. No key political figures who tried to overturn an American election have faced real accountability. The president who orchestrated the greatest threat to our democracy in modern times is free to run for reelection, and may well return to office.

Our current situation started with a botched diagnosis. When Trump first rose to political prominence, much of the American political class reacted with amusement, seeing him as a sideshow. Even if he won, they thought, he’d tweet like a populist firebrand while governing like a Romney Republican, constrained by the system. But for those who had watched Trump-like authoritarian strongmen rise in Turkey, India, Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Venezuela, Trump was never entertaining. He was ominously familiar.

At issue was a classic frame-of-reference problem. America’s political culture is astonishingly insular. Turn on cable news and it’s all America, all the time. Other countries occasionally make cameos, but the story is still about us. (Poland is discussed if Air Force One goes to Warsaw; Iran flits into view only in relation to Washington’s nuclear diplomacy; Madagascar appears only in cartoon form, mostly featuring talking animals that don’t actually live there.) Our self-obsession means that whenever authoritarianism rises abroad, it’s mentioned briefly, if at all. Have you ever spotted a breathless octobox of talking heads on CNN or Fox News debating the death of democracy in Turkey, Sri Lanka, or the Philippines?

That’s why most American pundits and journalists used an “outsider comes to Washington” framework to process Trump’s campaign and his presidency, when they should have been fitting every fresh fact into an “authoritarian populist” framework or a “democratic death spiral” framework. While debates raged over tax cuts and offensive tweets, the biggest story was often obscured: The system itself was at risk.

Even today, too many think of Trump more as Sarah Palin in 2012 rather than Viktor Orbán in 2022. They wrongly believe that the authoritarian threat is over and that January 6 was an isolated event from our past, rather than a mild preview of our future. That misreading is provoking an underreaction from the political establishment. And the worst may be yet to come.

The basic problem is that one of the two major parties in the U.S.—the Trumpified Republican Party—has become authoritarian to its core. Consequently, there are two main ways to protect American democracy. The first is to reform the GOP, so that it’s again a conservative, but not authoritarian, party (à la John McCain’s or Mitt Romney’s Republican Party). The second is to perpetually block authoritarian Republicans from wielding power. But to do that, Democrats need to win every election. When you’re facing off against an authoritarian political movement, each election is an existential threat to democracy. Eventually, the authoritarian party will win.

Erica Frantz, a political scientist and expert on authoritarianism at Michigan State University, told me she shares that concern: With Republicans out of the White House and in the congressional minority, “democratic deterioration in the U.S. has simply been put on pause.”

Frantz was more sanguine during much of the Trump era. “When Trump won office, I pushed back against forecasts that democracy in the U.S. was doomed,” she explained. After all, America has much more robust democratic institutions than Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, or Turkey. “Though the risk of democratic collapse was higher than it had been in recent memory,” Frantz said, “it still remained low, comparatively speaking.”

When democracies start to die, they usually don’t recover. Instead, they end up as authoritarian states with zombified democratic institutions:  . . .

Continue reading.

No gift link available, alas, but definitely worth reading. It sure sounds like it’s time for those who can to work on Plan B. Recall that some people did know enough to flee Germany in the 1930s. Some did it in a timely manner, others at the last minute, rushing over the border as best they could.

If you think that developing a Plan B is alarmist, you are not paying attention to what’s happening. That article (gift link, no paywall) is just one example of a downpour of similar events across the US. A storm is in progress.

Update: And note this article in the Washington Post: “On the campaign trail, many Republicans talk of violence.” (gift link, no paywall) I hope the American public is paying attention, but I fear it is not — and that hope is leading to denial and wilful blindness.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2022 at 4:31 pm

The feud between a weed influencer and scientist over puking stoners

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Amanda Chicago Lewis writes in MIT Technology Review:

She had made a name for herself as an online cannabis influencer, but after a weed-infused dinner in a Malibu home in 2018, she spent more than two weeks constantly puking—unable to keep down food or water, going back and forth to urgent care for IVs, and at one point growing so weak she passed out in her yard. She was finally ready to accept it was the marijuana that had made her sick.

It was an unexpected turn of events. Moon, now 33, was a fixture at the marijuana mansion parties and lavish networking events that characterized the frenzied period after California’s November 2016 ballot initiative legalizing weed. Dressed in a polychromatic raver style, she had gone from working at medical marijuana dispensaries, where she leaned across the counter in neon eye makeup to explain which gummies hit the hardest, to writing reviews of weed-infused snacks and drinks, and selling flower crowns on Etsy that concealed a pipe so you could sneak pot into Coachella.

“She was trying very hard to be a cannabis influencer,” a former coworker at a weed company says. “Cute blond girl eating edibles: that was the premise.” By 2016, Moon had amassed over 14,000 followers on Instagram.

Then she started vomiting. She puked every few months at first, and then every time she got on an airplane, and then every day. Her mom got her an appointment in early 2018 with a gastrointestinal specialist who suggested, to Moon’s horror, that her digestive issues might be caused by all the cannabis she was consuming—a rare disorder called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS.

“I had heard about CHS before but didn’t think it was real,” Moon recalls. It didn’t make sense, she thought, since one of pot’s best-known therapeutic uses is alleviating the stomach trouble brought on by chemotherapy: “We know weed helps with nausea, so why would it also cause nausea and vomiting?”

At the time of her diagnosis, only a few hundred CHS patients had been identified in the medical literature, and very little was known about the condition. Doctors told patients they had it after a process of elimination. There was no definitive biomarker indicating someone had CHS; only a set of symptoms. Those who did suffer from it were heavy cannabis users who became prone to multiweek vomiting spells that often landed them in the hospital. Patients also frequently reported a compulsive need to take hot showers and baths, which somehow relieved the urge to throw up. When Moon first heard about CHS, the condition sounded absurd. To her, it reeked of moral panic, like the Tide Pod challenge: a fabricated concern intended to scare.

That skepticism was the default view in pothead circles. After decades of seeing the federal government vilify marijuana and ignore evidence of the drug’s medical potential, many stoners trust their own observations over institutional science and are reflexively resistant to the idea that weed could cause any harm. When it comes to cannabis science, it can be hard to know who to trust. Everyone seems to have an agenda, or a product to sell. Despite its widespread use, there is little peer-reviewed clinical research involving weed. The studies the American government does help fund and approve are much more likely to support the argument that pot is bad for you, distorting the available evidence and fomenting doubt, confusion, and conspiracy theories.

As a result, much of what most people know about marijuana and its effects on the body and brain, positive or negative, amounts to little more than folklore. Indeed, scientific investigations into cannabis often reference types of historical documents seldom mentioned in other fields. One 2007 paper published in the journal Chemistry and Biodiversity cites an ancient Egyptian papyrus advocating cannabis and honey “to cool the uterus and eliminate its heat” during childbirth; Assyrian clay tablets suggesting weed “for or against panic”; and certain translations of Exodus 30:23, in which cannabis may have been included in a recipe given to Moses by God for a holy anointing oil.

That paper’s author is Ethan Russo, a neurologist and psychopharmacologist. “Ethan has more experience researching cannabinoids than almost anybody else. He’s been doing it for decades,” says Peter Grinspoon, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. Grinspoon describes Russo as “a leader” in the field, with “broad knowledge of both disease and cannabis.”

A balding and bespectacled 70-year-old, Russo first became interested in marijuana back in the 1990s, when he noticed the relief that many of his patients got from the drug. He began trying to organize a clinical trial around pot and migraines, but like many of the well-meaning folks who have tried to study the therapeutic effects of cannabis in human beings, he couldn’t get government approval in the United States. This brought Russo to the UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals, where it was easier to do legal research, and to a position of authority that would ultimately put him on a collision course with Moon.

Moon and Russo have never met in person, but they have spent the past few years embroiled in a bitter online battle over Russo’s attempt to research CHS.

The influencer and the scientist have little in common—Moon never graduated from high school, and Russo doesn’t quite understand how to use Instagram—but still, I was surprised to see their conflict spin out with such vehemence. There have been accusations of scamming and sabotage, social media trash-talking, and an incident in which hundreds of people backed out of a scientific study. It is not an exaggeration to say their inability to get along may have forever warped the public conversation around CHS, just as the disorder is becoming increasingly common in emergency rooms across the globe.

As a journalist covering the insular marijuana industry, I’ve known both Moon and Russo for several years. Both have kept me updated on their respective sides of the squabble. This intensely personal dispute feels like a heightened microcosm of our current moment, when established hierarchies are being upended and no one knows what to believe. As far as modern medicine has come, there are still so many things we do not know and cannot fix. Most diseases and injuries come  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2022 at 2:07 pm

Kale du Jour

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Kale before

Above is the “before” photo, which includes:

• 4 green onions
• some garlic scapes
• 5 cremini mushrooms
• 1 Meyer lemon (to be diced)
• 3 yellow cayenne peppers and 1 red Fresno pepper
• a knob of ginger root
big bunch of kale (it goes beyond the bounds of the photo)
• dried rosemary
• dried marjoram
• no salt — I rarely use any salt beyond its use in fermenting vegetables

Not shown are the Evo bottle of olive oil — the pot will get around 6 sprays, amounting to about 1 1/2 teaspoon of EVOO (= 1/2 tablespoon) — and vinegar (a splash) and tamari (a splash). I thought about including tumeric root, but decided not to this time. 

The kale is bulky until it cooks down, so I’m using my 6-qt pot.

All of the above have now been prepped and are in the pot and starting to simmer. After I loaded the pot, I felt that there was insufficient liquid (though the onions, lemon, and mushrooms will contribute some liquid as they cook), so I added a can of tomatoes with the juice — the one shown at the right: 540ml, so about a solid pound. Tomatoes are good in various ways.

Now, after it has cooked 30 minutes, there is an ample amount of pot liquor. It all smells very good. I’m going to pan-fry some tempeh (sprinkled with some smoked paprika) and have the kale atop the tempeh, with a teaspoon of nutritional yeast and a tablespoon of ground flaxseed mixed in. (I call it “kale,” but obviously the dish goes beyond kale.)

Here is the completed thing. I note from time stamps on the photos that the whole thing — taking the photo above, then prepping all the food and cooking it to the point shown in the photo below — took just under an hour.

Kale after

After having a bowl: It is very tasty indeed (luckily: I have a lot of it). I used the last of the beluga lentil and foxtail millet tempeh. I have soybean and hulled barley tempeh on hand. 

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2022 at 12:55 pm

Rowan Atkinson is a master of physical/visual comedy

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And see also:

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2022 at 11:11 am

Posted in Daily life, History, Humor, Video

Video survey of beans

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Because my diet is based on Greger’s Daily Dozen (with an assist from Heber’s palette of colorful foods), I eat beans every day, nowadays generally in the form of a bean-and-grain tempeh (50-50 mix). I found this video interesting. 

The video mentions the misinformation common on the internet in connection with the lectin in beans. I also have encounter that sort of thing — for example, a stern warning not to eat millets (which in fact are a healthful family of grains). The reason for the warning is that millets are a goitrogenic food, one that can impede the absorption of iodine. But so are soybeans, tofu, broccoli, and other cruciferous vegetables. That these foods impede iodine absorption does not mean you should avoid eating these foods, it means you should (a) eat a variety of foods, and (b) ensure that your diet provides adequate iodine. I eat unpolished millets from time to time, mostly in tempeh, but I also make sure that I get ample iodine in my diet and I don’t eat millet as a major food source. I also cook millet, and as noted at the link, cooking minimizes the goitrogenic effects.

Most people get ample iodine from iodized salt and seafood. I eat a couple of sheets a nori a day, which delivers all the iodine I need. As noted in a video on the best natural sources of iodine, kelp is not a good source because kelp contains too much iodine, and iodine, like many other micronutrients (iron, copper, selenium, sodium, and others) requires moderation: while essential for health, too much is harmful.

At any rate, here is the story of beans.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2022 at 11:03 am

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, distinguished pol of the week.

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Jennifer Rubin recognizes Pelosi’s stand on individual rights (gift link, no paywall):

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took charge of the national response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in a way no one in the White House, Senate or even pro-choice groups has been able to do. She understood that not only the court’s right-wing majority but also the Republican Party who put them on the bench were wildly out of step with the public.

So in a Dear Colleagues letter just days after the opinion was announced, she vowed to bring to the House floor measures that would protect “women’s most intimate and personal data stored in reproductive health apps”; affirm the “Constitutional right to travel freely and voluntarily throughout the United States”; and once more pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to make Roe v. Wade federal law.

But she did not stop there. She seized on Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion in Dobbs, which called for an even broader assault on privacy rights — including access to contraception, in-vitro fertilization and same-sex marriage.

She has made good on her promises. Earlier this month, the House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act and measures to protect the right to travel and information privacy, which Republicans opposed in almost unanimously. In doing so, Republicans effectively put their stamp of approval on tech companies and governments rummaging through women’s phones to figure out whether and when they became pregnant. Republicans also own any state efforts to ban interstate travel for abortion patients.

Pelosi then put a bill protecting same-sex marriage on the floor. This time, the legislation lured 47 Republicans to vote yes, but vast majority of Republicans voted against a now popular feature of American life.

Finally, on Thursday, Pelosi put on the floor . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2022 at 7:24 am

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