Later On

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The fight to save America

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

For weeks now, I have vowed that I would finish these letters early and get to bed before midnight, and for weeks now, I have finally finished around three in the morning. That was not the case two years ago, when I started writing these at the start of the Ukraine crisis: it was rare enough for me to be writing until midnight that I vividly remember the first time it happened.

I got to thinking today about why things seem more demanding today than they did two years ago, and it strikes me that what makes the writing more time consuming these days is that we have two all-consuming stories running in parallel, and together they illuminate the grand struggle we are in for the survival of American democracy.

On the one hand we have the former president and the attempts by him and his loyalists to seize control of our country regardless of the will of the majority of voters, while Republican Party leaders are refusing to speak out in the hopes that they can retain power to continue advancing their agenda.

Since the 1980s, this branch of the Republican Party has tried to dismantle the government in place since the 1930s that tries to protect equality in America, regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, and promoting infrastructure. Members of this faction of the Republican Party—the faction that is now in control of it—want to take the government back to the 1920s, when businessmen controlled the government, operating it to try to create a booming economy without regard for social or environmental consequences.

Although initially unhappy at Donald Trump’s elevation to the White House, that faction embraced him as he advanced the tax cuts, deregulation, and destruction of government offices they believed were central to freeing businessmen to advance the economy. Believing that Democrats’ determination to use the government to level the playing field among Americans would destroy the individualism that supports the economy, they had come to believe that Democrats could not legitimately govern the country. And so, members of this Republican faction did not back away when Trump refused to accept the election of a Democratic president in 2020.

Almost a year later, the leadership of the Republican Party, composed now as it is of Trump loyalists, is undermining our democracy. It has fallen in line behind Trump’s Big Lie that he and not Biden won the 2020 election, and that the Democratic Party engaged in voter fraud to install their candidate. This is a lie, but Republicans at the state level are using that lie to justify new election laws that suppress Democratic votes and put control of state elections into their own hands. If those laws are allowed to stand, we will be a democracy in name only. We will likely still have elections, but, just as in Russia or Hungary now, the mechanics of the system will mean that only the president’s party can win.

This attack on our democracy is unprecedented, and it cannot be ignored. Tonight, for example, Trump held a “rally” in Perry, Georgia, where, to cheers, he straight up lied that the recent “audit” in Arizona proved he won the 2020 election. And yet, to overemphasize the antics of the former president and his supporters enables them to grow to larger proportions than they deserve, feeding their power. Tonight, for example, Newsmax and OAN covered Trump’s rally live, but the Fox News Channel did not, and the audience appeared bored.

On the other hand, in contrast to the former president’s party, President Joe Biden and the Democrats are trying to demonstrate that democracy actually works. Rather than simply fighting the Republicans, which would permit the Republicans to define the terms under which they govern, they are defending the active government the Republicans have set out to destroy. Biden has been clear since he took office that he intends to strengthen democracy abroad, where it is under pressure from rising autocratic governments, by strengthening it at home.

To that end, he and the Democrats in Congress have aggressively worked to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2021 at 9:11 pm

The bias that blinds: Why doctors give some people dangerously different medical care

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Jessica Nordell writes in the Guardian:

I met Chris in my first month at a small, hard-partying Catholic high school in north-eastern Wisconsin, where kids jammed cigarettes between the fingers of the school’s lifesize Jesus statue and skipped mass to eat fries at the fast-food joint across the street. Chris and her circle perched somewhere adjacent to the school’s social hierarchy, and she surveyed the adolescent drama and absurdity with cool, heavy-lidded understanding. I admired her from afar and shuffled around the edges of her orbit, gleeful whenever she motioned for me to join her gang for lunch.

After high school, we lost touch. I went east; Chris stayed in the midwest. To pay for school at the University of Minnesota, she hawked costume jewellery at Dayton’s department store. She got married to a tall classmate named Adam and merged with the mainstream – became a lawyer, had a couple of daughters. She would go running at the YWCA and cook oatmeal for breakfast. Then in 2010, at the age of 35, she went to the ER with stomach pains. She struggled to describe the pain – it wasn’t like anything she’d felt before. The doctor told her it was indigestion and sent her home. But the symptoms kept coming back. She was strangely tired and constipated. She returned to the doctor. She didn’t feel right, she said. Of course you’re tired, he told her, you’re raising kids. You’re stressed. You should be tired. Frustrated, she saw other doctors. You’re a working mom, they said. You need to relax. Add fibre to your diet. The problems ratcheted up in frequency. She was anaemic, and always so tired. She’d feel sleepy when having coffee with a friend. Get some rest, she was told. Try sleeping pills.

By 2012, the fatigue was so overwhelming, Chris couldn’t walk around the block. She’d fall asleep at three in the afternoon. Her skin was turning pale. She felt pain when she ate. Adam suggested she see his childhood physician, who practised 40 minutes away. That doctor tested her blood. Her iron was so low, he thought she was bleeding internally. He scheduled a CT scan and a colonoscopy. When they revealed a golf ball-sized tumour, Chris felt, for a moment, relieved. She was sick. She’d been telling them all along. Now there was a specific problem to solve. But the relief was short-lived. Surgery six days later showed that the tumour had spread into her abdomen. At the age of 37, Chris had stage four colon cancer.

Historically, research about the roots of health disparities – differences in health and disease among different social groups – has sought answers in the patients: their behaviour, their status, their circumstances. Perhaps, the thinking went, some patients wait longer to seek help in the first place, or they don’t comply with doctors’ orders.

Maybe patients receive fewer interventions because that’s what they prefer. For Black Americans, health disparities have long been seen as originating in the bodies of the patients, a notion promoted by the racism of the 19th-century medical field. Medical journals published countless articles detailing invented physiological flaws of Black Americans; statistics pointing to increased mortality rates in the late 19th century were seen as evidence not of social and economic oppression and exclusion, but of physical inferiority.

In this century, research has increasingly focused on the social and environmental determinants of health, including the way differences in access to insurance and care also change health outcomes. The devastating disparate impact of Covid-19 on communities of colour vividly illuminates these factors: the disproportionate burden can be traced to a web of social inequities, including more dangerous working conditions, lack of access to essential resources, and chronic health conditions stemming from ongoing exposure to inequality, racism, exclusion and pollution. For trans people, particularly trans women of colour, the burden of disease is enormous. Trans individuals, whose marginalisation results in high rates of poverty, workplace discrimination, unemployment, and serious psychological distress, face much higher rates of chronic conditions such as asthma, chronic pulmonary obstructive disorder, depression and HIV than the cisgender population. A 2015 survey of nearly 28,000 trans individuals in the US found that one-third had not sought necessary healthcare because they could not afford it.

More recently, researchers have also begun looking at differences that originate in the providers – differences in how doctors and other healthcare professionals treat patients. And study after study shows that they treat some groups differently from others.

Black patients, for instance, are less likely than white patients to receive pain medication for the same symptoms, a pattern of disparate treatment that holds even for children. Researchers attribute this finding to false stereotypes that Black people don’t feel pain to the same degree as white people – stereotypes that date back to chattel slavery and were used to justify inhumane treatment. The problem pervades medical education, where “race” is presented as a risk factor for myriad diseases, rather than the accumulation of stressors linked to racism. Black immigrants from the Caribbean, for instance, have lower rates of hypertension and cardiovascular disease than US-born Black people, but after a couple of decades, their rates of illness increase toward those of the US-born Black population, a result generally attributed to the particular racism they encounter in the US.

Black patients are also given fewer therapeutic procedures, even when studies control for insurance, illness severity and type of hospital. For heart attacks, black people are less likely to receive guideline-based care; in intensive care units for heart failure, they are less likely to see a cardiologist, which is linked to survival.

These biases affect the quality of many other interactions in clinics. Doctors spend less time and build less emotional rapport with obese patients. Transgender people face overt prejudice and discrimination. The 2015 survey also found that in the preceding year, a third of respondents had had a negative encounter with a healthcare provider, including being refused treatment. Almost a quarter were so concerned about mistreatment that they avoided necessary healthcare. Transgender individuals can therefore face a dangerous choice: disclose their status as trans and risk discrimination, or conceal it and risk inappropriate treatment.

Even though medical providers are not generally intending to provide better treatment to some people at the expense of others, unexamined bias can create devastating harm.


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hris was told that her symptoms, increasingly unmanageable, were not serious. Women as a group receive fewer and less timely interventions, receive less pain treatment and are less frequently referred to specialists. One 2008 study of nearly 80,000 patients in more than 400 hospitals found that women having heart attacks experience dangerous treatment delays, and that once in the hospital they more often die. After a heart attack, women are less likely to be referred to cardiac rehabilitation or to be prescribed the right medication. Critically ill women older than 50 are less likely to receive life-saving interventions than men of the same age; women who have knee pain are 22 times less likely to be referred for a knee replacement than a man. A 2007 Canadian study of nearly 500,000 patients showed that after adjusting for the severity of illness, women spent a shorter time in the ICU and were less likely to receive life support; after age 50, they were also significantly more likely to die after a critical illness.

Women of colour are at particular risk for poor treatment. A 2019 analysis of their childbirth experiences found that they frequently encountered condescending, ineffective communication and disrespect from providers; some women felt bullied into having C-sections. Serena Williams’s childbirth story is by now well known: the tennis star has a history of blood clots, but when she recognised the symptoms and asked for immediate scans and treatment, the nurse and the doctor doubted her. Williams finally got what she needed, but ignoring women’s symptoms and distress contributes to higher maternal mortality rates among Black, Alaska Native and Native American women. Indeed, Black women alone in the US are three to four times more likely to die of complications from childbirth than white women.

There’s also a structural reason for inferior care: women have historically been excluded from much of medical research. The reasons are varied, ranging from a desire to protect childbearing women from drugs that could impair foetal development, via notions that women’s hormones could complicate research, to an implicit judgment that men’s lives were simply more worth saving. Many landmark studies on ageing and heart disease never included women; the all-men study of cardiovascular disease named MRFIT emerged from a mindset that male breadwinners having heart attacks was a national emergency, even though cardiovascular disease is also the leading cause of death for women. In one particularly egregious example, a 1980s study examining the effect of obesity on breast cancer and uterine cancer excluded women because men’s hormones were “simpler” and “cheaper” to study.

Basic to these practices was an operating assumption that men were the default humans, of which women were a subcategory that could safely be left out of studies. Of course, there’s a logical problem here: the assertion is that women are so complicated and different that they can’t be included in research, and yet also so similar that any findings should seamlessly extend to them. In the 90s, the US Congress insisted that medical studies funded by the National Institutes of Health should include women; earlier, many drug studies also left out women, an exclusion that may help explain why women are 50%-75% more likely to experience adverse side-effects from drugs.

As the sociologist Steven Epstein points out, medicine often starts with categories that are socially and politically relevant – but these are not always medically relevant. Relying on categories such as race risks erasing the social causes of health disparities and may entrench the false and damaging ideas that are inscribed in medical practice. At the same time, ignoring differences such as sex is perilous: as a result of their exclusion, women’s symptoms have not been medically well understood. Doctors were told, for example, that women present with “atypical symptoms” of heart attacks. In fact, these “atypical” symptoms are typical – for women. They were only “atypical” because they hadn’t been studied. Women and men also vary in their susceptibility to different diseases, and in the course and symptoms of those diseases. They respond to some drugs differently. Women’s kidneys filter waste more slowly, so some medications take longer to clear from the body.

This dearth of knowledge about women’s bodies has led doctors to see differences where none exist, and fail to see differences where they do. As the journalist Maya Dusenbery argues in her book Doing Harm, this ignorance also interacts perniciously with historical stereotypes.

When women’s understudied symptoms don’t match the textbooks, doctors label them “medically unexplained”. These symptoms may then be classified as psychological rather than physical in origin. The fact that so many of women’s symptoms are “medically unexplained” reinforces the stereotype that women’s symptoms are overreactions without a medical basis, and casts doubt over all women’s narratives of their own experiences. One study found that while men who have irritable bowel syndrome are more likely to receive scans, women tend to be offered tranquilisers and lifestyle advice. In response to her pain and fatigue, my friend Chris was told she should get some sleep.


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he doctor who finally ordered the right tests for Chris told her that he’d seen many young women in his practice whose diagnoses had been . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s infuriating. It seems to have its roots in that a disproportionately large number of medical doctors and researchers are white men, an unknown number of whom are misogynistic and/or racist. I think an interesting study would be to take a large randomized sample of medical practitioners and researchers and administer a psychological test to determine the degree to which each is misogynistic or racist. I’m also wondering whether medical schools reinforce or combat those attitudes, or instead just ignore the problem. (I suspect they ignore the problem.)

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2021 at 6:27 pm

Middle-Eastern Greens today: Spinach with things from the deli visits

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Middle-Eastern Spinach after cooking

It was time to cook a new batch of Greens, and today those greens are spinach. I used the 4-qt stainless sauté pan.

• 1.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, drizzled over bottom of pan
• 1 large red onion, chopped
• 1 good pinch Diamond Crystal kosher salt
• about 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
• 1 large head Russian red garlic, cloves peeled, chopped, and allowed to rest 15 minutes
• 4 enormous domestic white mushrooms chopped
• 2 300g packages frozen chopped spinach
• about 1 quart fresh spinach, chopped (from Costco run, left over after making salad)
• 3 spicy preserved lemons, cut into eighths (from the deli trip)
• 2 roasted red peppers, chopped (I have a jar of them from the deli trip)
• splash of brine from the jar of lemons
• splash of Bragg’s apple-cider vinegar
• splash of Red Boat fish sauce

I sautéed onions with the salt and crushed red pepper until onions softened, then added garlic and mushrooms and continued to cook, stirring fairly often, until mushrooms released their liquid.

I then added the rest of the ingredients and cooked covered at 225ºF for 25-30 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2021 at 3:05 pm

The Last Time Always Happens Now

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David at Raptitude generally has a good thought to share, and I was struck by this one:

William Irvine, an author and philosophy professor I’m a big fan of, often tries to point people towards a little-discussed fact of human life:

You always know when you’re doing something for the first time, and you almost never know when you’re doing something for the last time.

There was, or will be, a last time for everything you do, from climbing a tree to changing a diaper, and living with a practiced awareness of that fact can make even the most routine day feel like it’s bursting with blessings. Of all the lasting takeaways from my periodic dives into Stoicism, this is the one that has enhanced my life the most. I’ve touched on it before in my Stoicism experiment log and in a Patreon post, and I intend to write about it many more times in the future (but who can say?)

To explain why someone might want to start thinking seriously about last times, Bill Irvine asks us to imagine a rare but relatable event: going to your favorite restaurant one last time, knowing it’s about to close up for good.

Predictably, dining on this last-ever night makes for a much richer experience than almost all the other times you’ve eaten at that restaurant, but it’s not because the food, decor, or service is any different than usual. It’s better because you know it’s the last time, so you’re apt to savor everything you can about it, right down to the worn menus and tacky napkin rings. You’re unlikely to let any mistakes or imperfections bother you, and in fact you might find them endearing.

It becomes clearer than ever, in other words, how great it was while it lasted, and how little the petty stuff mattered. On that last dinner, you can set aside minor issues with ease, and appreciate even the most mundane details. Anything else would seem foolish, because you’re here now, and this is it. It might even occur to you that there’s no reason you couldn’t have enjoyed it this much every time you dined here – except that all the other times, you knew there would be more times, so you didn’t have to be so intentional about appreciating it.

That’s an exceptionally rare situation though. Almost always, we do things for the last time without knowing it’s the last time. There was a last time – on an actual calendar date – when you drew a picture with crayons purely for your own pleasure. A last time you excitedly popped a Blockbuster rental into your VCR. A last time you played fetch with a certain dog. Whenever the last time happened, it was “now” at the time.

You’ve certainly heard the heart-wrenching insight that there’s always a last time a parent picks up their child. By a certain age the child is too big, which means there’s always an ordinary day when the parent picks up and puts down their child as they have a thousand times before, with no awareness that it was the last time they would do it.

Ultimately there will be as many last times as there were first times. There will be last time you do laundry. A last time you eat pie. A last time you visit a favorite neighborhood, city, or country. For every single friend you’ve ever had, there will be a last time you talk, or maybe there already has been.

For ninety-nine percent of these last times, you will have no idea that that’s what it is. It will seem like another of the many middle times, with a lot more to come. If you knew it was the last-ever time you spoke to a certain person or did a certain activity, you’d probably make a point of appreciating it, like a planned last visit to Salvatore’s Pizzeria. You wouldn’t spend it thinking about something else, or let minor annoyances spoil it.

Many last times are still a long way in the future, of course. The trouble is you don’t know which ones.

The solution, Irvine suggests, is to frequently imagine that this is the last time, even when it’s probably not. A few times a day, whatever you’re doing, you assume you’re doing that thing for the last time. There will be a last time you sip coffee, like you’re doing now. What if this sip was it? There will be a last time you walk into the office and say hi to Sally. If this was it, you might be a little more genuine, a little more present.

The point isn’t to make life into a series of desperate goodbyes. You can go ahead and do the thing more or less normally. You might find, though, that when you frame it as a potential last time, you pay more attention to it, and you appreciate it for what it is in a way you normally don’t. It turns out that ordinary days are full of experiences you expect will keep happening forever, and of course none of them will.

It doesn’t matter if the activity is something you particularly love doing. Walking into a 7-11 or weeding the garden is just as worthy of last-time practice as hugging a loved one. Even stapling the corner of some pages together can generate a sense of appreciation, if you saw it as your final act of stapling in a life that’s contained a surprising amount of stapling.

Irvine uses . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2021 at 11:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Philosophy

The on-going effort to overthrow the United States government

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Heather Cox Richardson summarizes the situation:

On Monday, we learned that after last year’s election, John Eastman, a well-connected lawyer advising former president Donald Trump, outlined a six-point plan to overturn the outcome of the election and install Trump as America’s leader. They planned to cut the voters’ actual choice, Democrat Joe Biden, out of power: as Trump advisor Steve Bannon put it, they planned to “kill the Biden presidency in the crib.” This appears to have been the plan that Trump and his loyalists tried to execute on January 6.

That is, we now have written proof of an attempt to destroy our democracy and replace it with an autocracy.

This was not some crazy plot of some obscure dude in a shack in the mountains; this was a plan of the president of the United States of America, and it came perilously close to succeeding. The president of the United States tried to overturn the results of an election—the centerpiece of our democracy—and install himself into power illegitimately.

If this is not a hair-on-fire, screaming emergency, what is?

And yet, Republican lawmakers, with the notable exceptions of Representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), have largely remained silent about the fact that the head of their party tried to destroy our democracy.

The best spin on their silence is that in refusing to defend the former president while also keeping quiet enough that they do not antagonize the voters in his base, they are choosing their own power over the protection of our country.

The other option is that the leaders of the Republican Party have embraced authoritarianism, and their once-grand party—the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party that saved the United States in the 1860s, the party that removed racial enslavement from our fundamental law—has become an existential threat to our nation.

Democracy requires at least two healthy parties capable of running a government in order to provide oversight for those currently in control of the government and to channel opposition into peaceful attempts to change the country’s path rather than into revolution. But Republicans appear to believe that any Democratic government is illegitimate, insisting that Democrats’ calls for business regulation, a basic social safety net, and infrastructure investment are “socialism” that will destroy the country.

With Democrats in charge of the federal government, Republicans are cementing their power in the states to support a future coup like the one Eastman described. Using “audits” of the 2020 elections, notably in Arizona but now also in Pennsylvania and Texas, Trump loyalists have convinced their supporters to distrust elections, softening the ground to overturn them in the future. According to a new poll by NORC at the University of Chicago, 26% of Americans now believe that “[t]he 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president,” and 8% believe that “[u]se of force is justified to restore Donald Trump to the presidency.”

Arguing that they have to stop the voter fraud they have falsely claimed threw the election to Biden, Republican lawmakers in 18 states have passed more than 30 laws to cut down Democratic voting and cement their own rule. Trump supporters have threatened election workers, prompting them to quit, and have harassed school board members and local officials, driving them from office.

Although attorneys general are charged with nonpartisan enforcement of the law, we learned earlier this month that in September 2020, 32 staff members of Republican attorneys general met in Atlanta, where they participated in “war games” to figure out what to do should Trump not be reelected. The summit was organized by the Rule of Law Defense Fund, the fundraising arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which sent out robocalls on January 5 urging recipients to march to the Capitol the following day “to stop the steal.” In May, RAGA elevated the man responsible for those robocalls to the position of executive director, prompting others to leave.

In states where Republicans have rigged election mechanics, party members need to worry about primary challengers from the right, rather than Democratic opponents. So they are purging from the party all but Trump loyalists, especially as the former president is backing challengers against those who voted in favor of his impeachment in the House in January 2021. Last week, one of those people, Representative Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), announced he was retiring, in part because of right-wing threats against his family. 

Trump loyalists are openly embracing the language of authoritarianism. In Texas, Abbott is now facing a primary challenger who today tweeted: “Texans deserve a strong and robust leader committed to fighting with them against the radical Left. They deserve a leader like Brazil has in Jair Bolsonaro…..” Bolsonaro, a right-wing leader whose approval rating in late August was 23%, is threatening to stay in power in Brazil against the wishes of its people. He claims that the country’s elections are fraudulent and that “[e]ither we’ll have clean elections, or we won’t have elections.”

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) today used language fascists have used in the past to stoke hatred of their political opponents, tweeting that “ALL House Democrats are evil and will kill unborn babies all the way up to birth and then celebrate.” Yesterday, the leader of Turning Points U.S.A., Charlie Kirk, brought the movement’s white nationalism into the open when he told a YouTube audience that Democrats were backing “an invasion of the country” to bring in “voters that they want and that they like” and to work toward “diminishing and decreasing white demographics in America.” He called for listeners to “[d]eputize a citizen force, put them on the border, give them handcuffs, get it done.”

Today, we learned that the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will be held in Budapest, Hungary, where leader Viktor Orbán, whom Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson has openly admired, is dismantling democracy and eroding civil rights. When former vice president Mike Pence spoke in Budapest earlier this week at a forum denouncing immigration and urging traditional social values, he told the audience he hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would soon outlaw abortion thanks to the three justices Trump put on the court.

Establishment Republicans who are now out of power are . . .

Continue reading. The US is swirling the drain and most politicians are simply watching.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2021 at 11:44 am

The Constitutional Crisis Has Arrived

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 2:12 pm

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

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

Matthew Trunsky is used to people being angry at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading. No paywall.

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 2:02 pm

Folding an origami knight from a single sheet of paper

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

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

Why doesn’t rationality seem to matter anymore?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 11:49 am

My favorite squash

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

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 11:27 am

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

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 11:08 am

The Driver Is Red — An animated short documentary

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

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 9:39 am

Posted in Daily life, History, Video

ShadowDragon: Inside the Social Media Surveillance Software That Can Watch Your Every Move

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Michael Kwet reports in the Intercept:

A MICHIGAN STATE POLICE CONTRACT, obtained by The Intercept, sheds new light on the growing use of little-known surveillance software that helps law enforcement agencies and corporations watch people’s social media and other website activity.

The software, put out by a Wyoming company called ShadowDragon, allows police to suck in data from social media and other internet sources, including Amazon, dating apps, and the dark web, so they can identify persons of interest and map out their networks during investigations. By providing powerful searches of more than 120 different online platforms and a decade’s worth of archives, the company claims to speed up profiling work from months to minutes. ShadowDragon even claims its software can automatically adjust its monitoring and help predict violence and unrest. Michigan police acquired the software through a contract with another obscure online policing company named Kaseware for an “MSP Enterprise Criminal Intelligence System.”

The inner workings of the product are generally not known to the public. The contract, and materials published by the companies online, allow a deeper explanation of how this surveillance works, provided below.

ShadowDragon has kept a low profile but has law enforcement customers well beyond Michigan. It was purchased twice by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in the last two years, documents show, and was reportedly acquired by the Massachusetts State Police and other police departments within the state.

Michigan officials appear to be keeping their contract and the identities of ShadowDragon and Microsoft from the public. The Michigan.gov website does not make the contract available; it instead offers an email address at which to request the document “due to the sensitive nature of this contract.” And the contract it eventually provides has been heavily redacted: The copy given to David Goldberg, a professor at Wayne State University in Detroit had all mentions of ShadowDragon software and Microsoft Azure blacked out. What’s more, Goldberg had to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the contract. When the state website did offer the contract, it was unredacted, and I downloaded it before it was withdrawn.

Last year, The Intercept published several articles detailing how a social media analytics firm called Dataminr relayed tweets about the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests to police. The same year, I detailed at The Intercept how Kaseware’s partner Microsoft helps police surveil and patrol communities through its own offerings and a network of partnerships.

This new revelation about the Michigan contract raises questions about what digital surveillance capabilities other police departments and law enforcement agencies in the U.S. might be quietly acquiring. And it comes at a time when previously known government social media surveillance is under fire from civil rights and liberties advocates like MediaJustice and the American Civil Liberties Union. It also raises the specter of further abuses in Michigan, where the FBI has been profiling Muslim communities and so-called Black Identity Extremists. In 2015, it was revealed that for years, the state police agency was using cell site simulators to spy on mobile phones without disclosing it to the public.

“Social media surveillance technologies, such as the software acquired by Michigan State Police, are often introduced under the false premise that they are public safety and accountability tools. In reality, they endanger Black and marginalized communities,” Arisha Hatch, vice president and chief of campaigns at civil rights nonprofit Color of Change, wrote in an email.

Michigan State Police spokesperson Shanon Banner said in an email that “the investigative tools available to us as part of this contract are only used in conjunction with criminal investigations, following all state and federal laws.” The founder of ShadowDragon, Daniel Clemens, wrote that the company provides only information that is publicly available and does not “build products with predictive capabilities.”

A Shadowy Industry

Kaseware and ShadowDragon are part of a shadowy industry of software firms that exploit what they call “open source intelligence,” or OSINT: the trails of information that people leave on the internet. Clients include intelligence agencies, government, police, corporations, and even schools.

Kaseware, which is partnered to ShadowDragon and Microsoft, provides a platform for activities that support OSINT and other elements of digital policing, like data storage, management, and analysis. Its capabilities range from storing evidence to predictive policing. By contrast, the two ShadowDragon products acquired by the Michigan State Police are more narrowly tailored for the surveillance of people using social media, apps, and websites on the internet. They run on the Kaseware platform.

To understand how Kaseware and ShadowDragon work together, let us consider each in turn, starting with ShadowDragon. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 8:14 pm

Best mask technique

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No one wants to get Covid. Tara Parker-Pope has an excellent article in the NY Times on a technique that greatly improves the efficacy of a mask. It’s a a gift article, so no paywall.

As new, more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus spread around the world, public health officials are advising us to upgrade our mask protection. One of the easiest ways to do that is to wear two masks at the same time. Here are answers to common questions about the dos and don’ts of double masking.

New variants of the coronavirus are more contagious. It may be that an infected person sheds greater quantities of virus, or it may be that it takes fewer viral particles to make you sick. Either way, a more contagious virus means we need to wear masks that do a better job of trapping infectious particles. Double-masking can improve the fit of your mask by closing gaps around the edges, and it creates multiple layers of protection against droplets coming in or out.

Wearing two disposable surgical masks together is not recommended. A standard surgical mask is a blue, rectangle-shaped mask made of paper-like material. While surgical masks are great filters against viral droplets, they tend to fit poorly, leaving gaps on the sides, which reduces their efficiency. Wearing two at the same time doesn’t solve the fit problem. Adding a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask helps close the gaps and creates a more snug fit. For help choosing a cloth mask, the team at Wirecutter, which is owned by The New York Times, has some recommendations. (The mask in the video is the Graf Lantz Zenbu Organic Cotton Face Mask.)

The N95 mask is the gold standard for medical masks, and the KN95, made in China, is similar. When worn correctly, both masks will filter 95 percent of the hardest-to-trap particles. If you have access to a genuine N95 or KN95 and it fits well, you don’t need to double mask. The problem is that the N95 and KN95 masks still are hard to come by, and the supply chain is loaded with counterfeits. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend double-masking with an N95 or KN95, you need to be sure you have the real thing. If you’re not sure, or it doesn’t fit well, covering it with a cloth mask could help. (Another highly effective medical mask is the KF94, made in Korea. Counterfeits typically are not a problem with KF94s, and if it fits you well, you don’t need to double mask.)

The best way to double mask is to wear a surgical mask as the first layer and cover it with a cloth mask. Tightening your surgical mask is not required, but if it fits poorly, knotting the ear loops and tucking in the corners can improve its filtering efficiency by as much as 20 percent. For a longer demonstration on adjusting the fit of your surgical mask, you can watch this video from UNC Health.

\Do look at the link — there’s a good video of the technique.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 7:35 pm

Madeline Miller on the Aeneid

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Octavian Report interviews Madeline Miller, of whom they write:

Classicist and best-selling novelist Madeline Miller is world-renowned for her books — The Song of Achilles and Circe — that reimagine and reshape epic poetry and myth into fascinating, rich worlds while casting an an eye on their resonances with contemporary questions of politics, morality, and society. This scintillating interview on the Aeneid dives deep into Virgil’s artistic and emotional mastery and the intricate cultural underpinnings of his masterwork. And if you haven’t subscribed already to WHY THE CLASSICS? you should click here — that way you’ll never miss our newsletter, hitting inboxes every Thursday.

The interview begins:

Octavian Report: What drew you to Virgil, and which of his works do you admire the most?

Madeline Miller: I love them all. But I always have to have the Aeneid first in my heart. I would say that the Aeneid is one of the most amazing pieces of complex, subtext-filled poetry that I have ever read. It functions on so many levels. I think when you compare the Iliad and the Odyssey to the Aeneid, you can really see that oral tradition versus one intellect shaping a poem obsessively over 10 — or maybe more — years, and building in all these very deliberate echoes, resonances, and links between sections. When I was first reading it in high school, I finally understood how to analyze poetry in English by working with Virgil because it was like working with this complete masterpiece of poetry which succeeds at every possible level. It’s an exciting and moving story, and an interesting story. It has really big ideas. It’s absolutely gorgeously written, both in meter and in how Virgil rings the chimes of the Latin language all the way through. It’s a masterpiece of poetry.

I am definitely one of those people who believes that this is not a piece of pure Augustan propaganda, but is in fact in many ways questioning some of Augustus’s ideas and message and some Roman cultural methods and ideas. One of the things I find so interesting about Virgil is that he was born into a republic when Catullus could write a nasty, smirking poem about Caesar and not be the worse off for it but he himself had to write the Aeneid with Maecenas and Augustus literally breathing down his neck: funding him, sponsoring him, wanting to see early drafts. I am fascinated by what it means as a poet to go from writing in a republic to writing under an empire — indeed, under the first emperor of Rome — and how he must’ve felt constricted and watched and aware.

Of course there are moments where you see really fulsome praise of Augustus or of Roman progress; at the same time, Aeneas himself is such a flawed hero. He fails in his mission, which his father gives him at the end of book six: “[Your art] is to rule the people with power . . . to place a custom for peace, to spare the suppliant, and war down the proud.” Again and again in books seven through 12, we see Aeneas fail to spare those who have been made subject and cast down. What does that mean about Roman mercy? I think Virgil tells us at the beginning of the Aeneid. “Of such a weight it was to found the Roman race.” This is the story of what the cost was of founding Rome. For me, the implication is always, “It had better be worth it. Here is what had to go on in order for Rome to come into being.”

I love all those aspects of it. I love that it ends on such a disturbing note, that it ends with Aeneas in a moment of rage killing someone who has surrendered to him. I know people have made the argument that it’s not finished. I believe that is absolutely where Virgil meant to leave it. The Italian poet Maphaeus Vegius tried to write the 13th book, where everything ended happily. But what a great moment Turnus’s death is to end on! If you are going to rule by conquest, that means things might be good for you, but they’re not good for everybody.

OR: What do you make of the fact that at the height of its power, Rome was tracing its founding to the Trojans — the losers in the Iliad? . . .

Miller: I think the Romans always felt a little bit inferior to the Greeks culturally, which Virgil acknowledges in that same passage: “Others are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life, History

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The Turning Point: A Year That Changed Dickens and the World

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James Riding interviews Robert Douglas-Fairhurst in The London Magazine:

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst is Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Magdalen College. His books include Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist, which won the Duff Cooper Prize, and The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland, which was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award. His latest book, The Turning Point: A Year That Changed Dickens and the World, was published in September by Jonathan Cape.

It follows the twists and turns of 1851: a year of radical change in Britain, crystallising in the Great Exhibition, as well as a turbulent time in the life of Charles Dickens, where he copes with a double bereavement and begins writing his masterpiece Bleak House.

I spoke to Robert about how he recreates the possibility and uncertainty of a year in the life of Dickens, the challenges of writing about such a slippery and multifaceted writer, and what makes Bleak House a pivotal novel in Dickens’s career.

What was your first encounter with Dickens?

I won a school prize when I was about 16, and I was given fifty pounds to spend on books. I went to a second-hand bookshop to see what I could get for my fifty pounds, and I noticed there was a complete set (or what I thought was a complete set, but turned out not to be entirely complete) of Dickens. And I thought, “well, that’ll be a nice way of taking up a metre of shelf space.” So I bought it, and then I started dipping in and rummaging, and then the rummaging became slightly more dedicated readings. Then I started writing a dissertation as an undergraduate on Dickens, and then I never really stopped.

So I suppose it was serendipity that led to obsession, which sounds like two bad Calvin Klein perfumes. Although interestingly, I remember the second house I ever lived in as a child was in a place called Dickens Drive. Pickwick Close was just around the corner, and so was Copperfield Way. These were new mock-Georgian houses in Chislehurst in Kent. It’s not a reason why I became interested in Dickens, but it’s part of the atmosphere the generated that interest, because it shows that Dickens is one of those writers that’s never gone away. The tentacular reach of his influence still penetrates even things like town planning, then, in the 1970s. So, if not inevitable, then it was always likely that he was a writer who would grab me.

How do you find new ways to write about Dickens?

It’s a real challenge, but then Dickens himself is a real biographical challenge. Leigh Hunt famously said that his face has the life and soul of fifty human beings in it. As I say in the book, Dickens knew perfectly well he was a bundle of different people who happened to share one skin. He was a social campaigner, a novelist, a short story writer, a bad poet, a public speaker – the list goes on and on. He’s peculiarly slippery as a writer.

In the book, I’ve described him as an escape artist: just when you think you’ve managed to pin him down, he slips free and runs away. The reason that I find him challenging is not just because he’s so elusive, but because he also challenges. He challenges the world around him, he challenges his contemporaries, he challenges writing itself. And his writing is always reinventing itself, from novel to novel and also even from instalment to instalment. For all those reasons, I find him a peculiarly attractive, awkward, recalcitrant, appealing writer to try and pin down in a book.

Can you give a sense of what your research process is like? . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Routine Rhythms

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Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

File Not Found; or, Ignorance Not Always Bliss.

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Monica Chin writes in the Verge:

Catherine Garland, an astrophysicist, started seeing the problem in 2017. She was teaching an engineering course, and her students were using simulation software to model turbines for jet engines. She’d laid out the assignment clearly, but student after student was calling her over for help. They were all getting the same error message: The program couldn’t find their files.

Garland thought it would be an easy fix. She asked each student where they’d saved their project. Could they be on the desktop? Perhaps in the shared drive? But over and over, she was met with confusion. “What are you talking about?” multiple students inquired. Not only did they not know where their files were saved — they didn’t understand the question.

Gradually, Garland came to the same realization that many of her fellow educators have reached in the past four years: the concept of file folders and directories, essential to previous generations’ understanding of computers, is gibberish to many modern students.

Professors have varied recollections of when they first saw the disconnect. But their estimates (even the most tentative ones) are surprisingly similar. It’s been an issue for four years or so, starting — for many educators — around the fall of 2017.

That’s approximately when Lincoln Colling, a lecturer in the psychology department at the University of Sussex, told a class full of research students to pull a file out of a specific directory and was met with blank stares. It was the same semester that Nicolás Guarín-Zapata, an applied physicist and lecturer at Colombia’s Universidad EAFIT, noticed that students in his classes were having trouble finding their documents. It’s the same year that posts began to pop up on STEM-educator forums asking for help explaining the concept of a file.

Guarín-Zapata is an organizer. He has an intricate hierarchy of file folders on his computer, and he sorts the photos on his smartphone by category. He was in college in the very early 2000s — he grew up needing to keep papers organized. Now, he thinks of his hard drives like filing cabinets. “I open a drawer, and inside that drawer, I have another cabinet with more drawers,” he told The Verge. “Like a nested structure. At the very end, I have a folder or a piece of paper I can access.”

Guarín-Zapata’s mental model is commonly known as directory structure, the hierarchical system of folders that modern computer operating systems use to arrange files. It’s the idea that a modern computer doesn’t just save a file in an infinite expanse; it saves it in the “Downloads” folder, the “Desktop” folder, or the “Documents” folder, all of which live within “This PC,” and each of which might have folders nested within them, too. It’s an idea that’s likely intuitive to any computer user who remembers the floppy disk.

More broadly, directory structure connotes physical placement — the idea that a file stored on a computer is located somewhere on that computer, in a specific and discrete location. That’s a concept that’s always felt obvious to Garland but seems completely alien to her students. “I tend to think an item lives in a particular folder. It lives in one place, and I have to go to that folder to find it,” Garland says. “They see it like one bucket, and everything’s in the bucket.”

That tracks with how Joshua Drossman, a senior at Princeton, has understood computer systems for as long as he can remember. “The most intuitive thing would be the laundry basket where you have everything kind of together, and you’re just kind of pulling out what you need at any given time,” he says, attempting to describe his mental model.

As an operations research and financial engineering major, Drossman knows how to program — he’s been trained to navigate directories and folders throughout his undergraduate years, and he understands their importance in his field. But it’s still not entirely natural, and he sometimes slips. About halfway through a recent nine-month research project, he’d built up so many files that he gave up on keeping them all structured. “I try to be organized, but there’s a certain point where there are so many files that it kind of just became a hot mess,” Drossman says. Many of his items ended up in one massive folder.

Peter Plavchan, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at George Mason University, has seen similar behavior from his students and can’t quite wrap his head around it. “Students have had these computers in my lab; they’ll have a thousand files on their desktop completely unorganized,” he told The Verge, somewhat incredulously. “I’m kind of an obsessive organizer … but they have no problem having 1,000 files in the same directory. And I think that is fundamentally because of a shift in how we access files.”

Aubrey Vogel, a journalism major at Texas A&M, has had similar experiences to Drossman. She’s encountered directory structure before; she shared a computer with her grandfather, who showed her how to save items in folders, as a child. But as she’s grown up, she’s moved away from that system — she now keeps one massive directory for schoolwork and one for her job. Documents she’s not sure about go in a third folder called “Sort.”

“As much as I want them to be organized and try for them to be organized, it’s just a big hot mess,” Vogel says of her files. She adds, “My family always gives me a hard time when they see my computer screen, and it has like 50 thousand icons.”

Why have mental models changed?  . . ..

Continue reading. There’s more.

I am surprised that this is a problem. I had no idea that people using computers would not understand directories, folders, and files. That seems so weird, but (as one student pointed out above) these are people who keep all their clothes in one big pile and rummage through it to find socks, underwear, shirts, and so on: no organization at all. I wonder whether their minds work the same way: disorganized and muddled.

My own mental model might be: a file is a book; the shelf on which it rests is a folder, and that is contained in another folder (the bookcase), which holds multiple folders (its various shelves). There’s a bigger folder — the room — which contains multiple bookcases (each a folder).

A shelf might contain a single book, or several books, or many books. And so on.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 11:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Software

Tagged with

How dangerous is Africa’s explosive Lake Kivu?

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I would not live near this lake on a bet. Nicola Jones writes in Nature:

On 22 May, one of Africa’s most active volcanoes, Mount Nyiragongo, started spewing lava towards the crowded city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The eruption destroyed several villages, killed dozens of people and forced an estimated 450,000 people to fled their homes.

The volcano has since calmed and the immediate humanitarian crisis has eased. But government officials and scientists have another worry on their minds: something potentially even more dangerous than Mount Nyiragongo.

Goma sits on the shore of Lake Kivu, a geological anomaly that holds 300 cubic kilometres of dissolved carbon dioxide and 60 cubic kilometres of methane, laced with toxic hydrogen sulfide. The picturesque lake, nestled between the DRC and Rwanda, has the potential to explosively release these gases in a rare phenomenon known as a limnic eruption. That could send a huge pulse of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere: the lake holds the equivalent of 2.6 gigatonnes of CO2, which is equal to about 5% of global annual greenhouse-gas emissions. Even worse, such a disaster could fill the surrounding valley with suffocating and toxic gas, potentially killing millions of people. “It could create one of the worst, if not the worst, natural humanitarian disasters in history,” says Philip Morkel, an engineer and founder of Hydragas Energy, based in North Vancouver, Canada, who is attempting to get funding for a project to remove and utilize gas from the lake.

The 2021 volcanic eruption didn’t trigger a mass release of gases from the lake, and on 1 June, the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) said there was no imminent risk. But, the authorities do think that lava flowed through underground fractures beneath the city of Goma and Lake Kivu itself. A day after the eruption, a tremor seems to have triggered part of a sandbar by the lake to collapse, which might have caused a small release of gases in that spot: some people reported that waters offshore from a prominent hotel looked like they were boiling.

For now, the lake is stable. Although it contains a lot of gas, the concentration would have to double in the region with the most gas for it to reach saturation point. But a strong earthquake or volcanic eruption could potentially trigger a gas release by disrupting the lake’s layered structure or increasing the gas concentrations. And some researchers worry that a disaster might be brought on by human activity, too.

Methane is already being pumped from the lake’s depths and burnt to create much-needed electricity, which most people agree is both a sensible use of local natural resources and a way to make the lake safer by removing some of its gas. The stakes are high: researchers have estimated that the methane in Lake Kivu could be worth up to US$42 billion over 50 years.

But researchers disagree about which method of gas extraction is best, and whether such efforts might eventually disturb the lake in ways that elevate the dangers rather than subduing them. The debate rages even while . . .

Continue reading.

And see also this account of an actual tragedy of this sort: “This Small Lake in Africa Once Killed 1,700 People Overnight, And We Still Don’t Know Why.”

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 11:22 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Free Resource for Evidence-Based Nutrition

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Dr. Michael Greger blogs at NutritionFacts.org:

Are you a medical professional interested in sharing resources on healthy eating with your patients or clients? To support your important efforts, we invite you to apply to receive free copies of our Evidence-Based Eating Guide by completing this form.

The Evidence-Based Eating Guide: A Healthy Living Resource from Dr. Greger & NutritionFacts.org is a tool designed to help make the switch to a healthier lifestyle even more simple. It’s easy to understand and filled with information on eating healthier, including a breakdown of Dr. Greger’s Traffic Light Eating, tips for using his Daily Dozen checklist, sample menus, and more.

We hope the guide will help you help your patients or clients improve the length and quality of their lives. (Note: This application is open to health professionals and organizations, but individuals can get the guide for free here.)

Continue reading. There’s more. Emphasis added to note that non-professionals can get a free copy of the guide from this page.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 9:54 am

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